RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Human rights groups cheered the Obama administration's recent decision to send 100 military advisers ready for combat to several countries in Africa. Their mission: Help take Joseph Kony off the battlefield. Kony is the infamous leader of the Lord's Resistance Army, a militant group that's terrorized Uganda and surrounding nation's for decades.
Advocacy groups, usually wary of military intervention, say this is a case where it's needed. But others are worried that children abducted by Kony's army and forced to fight could suffer again as the hunt for Kony heats up. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: As President Obama put together his plan to help African countries track down Joseph Kony, young activists were coming together with an innovative way to focus attention on the conflict.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This site was created to collect and publish data on the Lord's Resistance Army or LRA, a terrorist organization in central Africa responsible for the continent's longest running armed conflict.
KELEMEN: This is LRA tracking site is a joint project of San Diego-based Invisible Children and an advocacy group here in Washington called Resolve, run by Michael Poffenberger.
MICHAEL POFFENBERGER: You can see video interviews with these people that we and our partners have filmed out on the ground, so that it's not just a bunch of icons on a map. It's actually the stories of those people who are being most impacted.
KELEMEN: He clicks on one spot in a remote part of eastern Congo.
POFFENBERGER: This community has been hit three or four times just within the past year.
KELEMEN: Six children and one woman who were abducted there in March, the activists say, and have not been heard from since.
The LRA is notorious for using child soldiers and that's one reason this issue has drawn so much interest from young Americans, including 28-year-old Poffenberger who went to Uganda first when he was a student at Notre Dame University.
Ben Keesey, who runs Invisible Children, says he was inspired by three of his friends who went to Uganda to make a film and happened upon terrible scenes.
BEN KEESEY: On one night in March of 2003, our founders - when they were in northern Uganda - saw the phenomenon called night commuting, where children out of fear of abduction left their home and slept in downtown city centers. And I think that day kind of changed all of our lives.
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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We've called them on the Youth of the World to help their fellow youth in northern Uganda and Central Africa.
KELEMEN: With their documentaries and slick online video campaigns, Invisible Children has built up a grassroots movement in the U.S. demanding more focus on Joseph Kony and the LRA. They welcomed President Obama's offer of a hundred Special Forces to help.
But the military campaign worries Erin Baines, an assistant professor at the Liu Institute for Global Issues at the University of British Columbia.
PROFESSOR ERIN BAINES: A large proportion of the LRA itself are children who have been abducted form their homes, so they are the front line of many of these battles. And they're the first to be killed because they have the least knowledge of how to hide and protect themselves.
KELEMEN: She has interviewed many former LRA victims, including a woman named Grace.
BAINES: And the stories that she tells or that other women tell are horrific stories of being in a battlefield; the exhaustion, the hunger, the thirst, the constant state of fear. And some of the horrible memories women have of their children being shot while in their arms and they have nothing they can do. They don't have a moment to mourn. They have to just put the baby down and keep going.
KELEMEN: This is something that also worries Michael Poffenberger of Resolve.
POFFENBERGER: Its really one of the most sadistic components of Kony's strategy. He purposefully puts, you know, abducted children in-between himself and anybody who's trying to pursue him.
KELEMEN: Poffenberger acknowledges there are no easy answers to this problem. But he hopes that with more U.S. involvement, the militaries in the region will be more sensitive to this. He'd also like to see the U.S. do more to improve communications in the region, so that family members can use radio frequencies to try to get messages to their abducted children and help them escape.
Keesey, of Invisible Children, says his organization is working on a rehabilitation center for former child soldiers.
KEESEY: If and when this comes to an end, first and foremost, you know, there's a lot of rehabilitation and development work that needs to happen. And we are committed to that. You know, when the guns fall silent that's the beginning of when you have a chance for peace.
KELEMEN: Asked what's next for Invisible Children, he says there are a lot of conflicts that need attention and a committed and passionate group to help shine a spotlight.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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