Uganda & Congo Kinshasa
UNICEF-led team finds Congolese child soldiers in Uganda

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afrol.com, 20 February - After a three-day mission to Kyankwanzi, Uganda, a UNICEF-led assessment team reported today that it had identified and registered 163 children from Congo Kinshasa (DRC) who had been housed in a political education school since August last year. 

UNICEF also announced today that it had dispatched needed supplies of clean water, essential drugs and sports equipment to Kyankwanzi camp and would continue to make daily trips throughout the week to deliver assistance to the children.

The assessment team reported that the children, who ranged from age 9 to 17, all said that they wanted to return to their families and communities in and around Bunia, DRC, which had been torn apart by inter-ethnic conflict over the past several months. The children are part of a larger group of 694 individuals who were airlifted from Bunia for political education and drill training in Uganda. Only 3 of the 163 children are girls, the team reported. 

UNICEF Representative Michel Sidibe said that the multi-agency task force established last week would swiftly pave the way for a smooth family reunification and resettlement of the children. "Above all we have to take every measure to ensure these children are not returned home to be thrown into combat situations. This is why UNICEF and its partners will provide these children with both the psycho-social care and schooling they require in the interim before they are reunited with their families", Michel Sidibe said. 

Plans are currently underway to remove the children to a transit camp where they can be cared for and protected pending reunification and resettlement. At a ceremony on Thursday in Kayankwanzi, the Ugandan Government will hand-over the children into UNICEF's interim care.

Michel Sidibe noted that the assessment team had been granted full access to all the children in the camp and said that he was pleased with the cooperation received thus far from government authorities.

The 16-member assessment team, led by UNICEF, included representatives from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the United Nations Development Programme, the International Migration Organization, Uganda's Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Save the Children Alliance and prominent non-governmental organizations.

The assessment was the first phase of a wider multi-agency operation planned to demobilize, reunite and resettle these children. "In a region where there are an estimated 20,000 child soldiers, greater political leadership is required to stop children being sent to the battlefield" Sidibe stressed.


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