Notorious warlord Joseph Kony tried to negotiate food and a safe haven with the president of Central African Republic even as an African force hunted him, a UN envoy told AFP on Wednesday.
Amid indications that the Lord's Resistance Army leader is seriously ill, UN special envoy Abou Moussa and an African Union counterpart called for heightened pressure on Kony.
Moussa said in an interview that Central African Republic president Michel Djotodia had told him this month he sent food to Kony.
"When we met President Djotodia he told us that he is in contact with him (Kony)," said Moussa, UN envoy for the Central African region where Kony's rebels are accused of killing 100,000 people in a two-decade reign of terror.
"He told us that he had provided him with 20 bags of food, with manioc, cassava.
"He added that Kony had called him, that Kony has asked for these items." Kony was also reported to have asked for the creation of a safe zone for him and his fighters in Central African Republic.
Moussa said Kony's whereabouts was not known but Djotodia believed the LRA chief was in Central African Republic, which is confronted by its own murderous chaos after a rebel takeover in March.
Moussa said he had warned the transitional president against providing food unless it was part of a deal involving a surrender.
"If he wants to surrender, he wants food, they should come out of the bush," the envoy said.
Moussa quoted Djotodia as saying that once Kony has given up, he would be handed over to the United Nations.
Kony, who launched a rebellion in his native Uganda two decades ago, is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity including murder, enslavement, sexual slavery and recruiting child soldiers.
A 3,000-strong Ugandan-led African force is hunting Kony in Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
They are backed by about 100 military advisors from the United States, which has offered a $5 million reward for Kony's capture.
The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people are displaced in countries in the region because of Kony's marauding.
Recent LRA attacks have been reported in South Sudan and Central African Republic. Moussa said defections have increased while the number of attacks is down, but that Kony is still widely "feared".
Moussa and African Union envoy on the LRA, Francisco Madeira, said there were indications that Kony is ailing.
"Many reports that we have received indicate that he is suffering from some serious illness, uncharacterised illness," Madeira told reporters after a UN Security Council meeting on the LRA.
Moussa told AFP that on a recent trip to Kampala, a well informed official had told him that Kony was believed to be sick.
"Of course you cannot be living in the jungle like that for years and years and continue to be in good health," Moussa said.
Madeira told the Security Council that Kony could have been "duping" the Central African Republic government into talks so he could move his fighters.
He said the special force will "not relent on the military pressure against the LRA until Kony and his top commanders surrender or are removed from the battlefield."
The LRA is now estimated to number less than 500 fighters, split into small groups in different countries. Moussa said Kony has suffered defections but forces villagers to reinforce his armed bands.
Moussa said the Central African Republic authorities had expected a mass surrender by LRA fighters on November 3, but it did not happen.
"But it shows the pressure. They want to surrender but they feel it is not yet the time. That is why the pressure must continue on Kony," Moussa said.
At the UN Security Council meeting on the LRA, US deputy ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis said it was essential for the international community to "remain united in our determination to crush the LRA, which has proven its willingness to wait the international community out and to exploit to its advantage every opportunity to regroup."