Kidnappings by Kony's LRA spike in Central African Republic: group

DAKAR (Reuters) - More than 200 people have been kidnapped in eastern Central African Republic this year, already nearly double last year's level, in a wave of abductions blamed on the Lord's Resistance Army, an organization tracking the rebel group said Thursday.

A quarter of the 217 abducted were children, 41 of whom are still missing or in captivity, LRA Crisis Tracker said in a statement. The kidnapped children may be as used as soldiers, sex slaves or laborers, it said.

The LRA, run by warlord Joseph Kony, is known for massacring and mutilating civilians as well as abducting children to use as soldiers or slaves.

"The LRA is once again abducting children in central Africa, betting that the international community will fail to protect those most vulnerable to Kony's forces," said Paul Ronan, director of The Resolve, one of the organizations behind the crisis tracking project.

The LRA has targeted the former French colony, which is reeling from years of inter-religious bloodshed. In January, the group killed a villager and abducted dozens of others during two weekend raids in a remote diamond-producing area of the country.

LRA Crisis Tracker said the rebel group has been responsible for attacks and abductions in eastern Congo too, but those had slowed since August.

Uganda led a crackdown against the rebel group about 10 years ago, at which point its fighters began to roam portions of Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Despite a U.S.-backed regional effort and the fact that the group's ranks are believed to have dwindled to several hundred fighters, LRA has continued assaults on civilians.

(Writing by Makini Brice; Editing by Edward McAllister and Alison Williams)