Child soldiers to be released amid crisis in volatile eastern DR Congo – UN envoy

Child Soldier - Children In Armed Conflict

21 April 2009 – Plans are under way to release more child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a UN envoy said today at the end of a one-week visit, urging an end to ongoing violations against children in a humanitarian crisis engulfing the country’s east.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary General’s Special Representative tasked with ensuring the protection of children in armed conflict, said she met with the DRC’s defense minister and army generals and received commitments for the release of children from the Congolese forces (FARDC) and other armed groups.

Child soldiers associated with a key rebel group known as the National Congress for People’s Defence (CNDP) and other militias will be released and reintegrated within their communities in the framework of their integration into the National Army, Ms. Coomaraswamy announced at a press conference in Kinshasa concluding her visit.

She said the reintegration of child soldiers into their families remained a critical priority for the peace process. Since January, about 1,200 child soldiers have been demobilized from various armed groups in North Kivu province.

But grave concerns remain that many children are passing through into the ranks of the newly integrated brigades of the FARDC, Ms. Coomaraswamy said, noting that a visit to Masisi, where her delegation met with commanders of integrated Mai Mai militias, resulted in the release of four children.

“The new Congolese Army cannot afford to have children in its ranks, and the integration process is a unique opportunity to identify and release them,” she said.

The envoy also called for an end to sexual violence against children and urged the need to combat impunity for rape and other violations that have devastated the lives of thousands of girls.

“Although the Government has taken some positive steps both in the military and civilian sectors to investigate and prosecute violators, such efforts need to be more systematic and include high profile perpetrators,” she said.

A peace agreement signed in March by the DRC and rebel groups, including the CNDP, ended an armed conflict that uprooted an estimated 250,000 people in the country’s war-torn eastern region.

Ms.Coomaraswamy urged continued funding for health and education services for a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Goma where more than half of the 14,000 people housed in the camp are children.

“The IDP situation in eastern DRC remains one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world,” she said.

Source: UN News Centre

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