afrol News, 11 June - The rebel/terrorist Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone has released more child soldiers in the eastern part of the country, the UN peacekeeping mission in the country said today in Freetown. Thousands of children however still remain in slavery.
In a ceremony in Kailahun, the RUF handed over 59 more children associated with the fighting forces, including four girls, to the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL). The latest release brings to 828 the number of children handed over by the RUF to the UN Mission since 25 May.
The event was witnessed by members of the National Child Protection Committee, including the Ministry of Social Welfare, UNICEF, and Save the Children, as well as the National Commission on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, according to UN reports.
The children were flown by UNAMSIL to an interim care centre in Daru operated by Save the Children. Several camps for demobilised child soldiers are operated in Sierra Leone. The children will be registered in the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme before being handed over to a UNICEF-supported network of child protection agencies that will care for them while their families are traced, according to information from the UN. Once the families are traced, UNICEF follows through by helping to reintegrate the children into the community.
Analysts however say the children, some as young as six, will be traumatised for a long time by their horrific experiences. The brutal atrocities committed by the RUF, including institutionalised rape of young girls and obliging drugged child soldiers to mutilate and kill their own villagers, have marked the children for the rest of their life.
While UN officials praise the RUF for the release of the child soldiers, others are concerned about the great numbers of children still not released. According to recent agreements between the government of Sierra Leone and the RUF, the RUF was supposed to have released all child combatants by 25 May. This has, however, been far from fulfilled.
Official statistics estimate that 5,400 children have fought in Sierra Leone's civil war, but UNICEF stresses that these are just estimates. A local group, Children Affected by War, believes the figure is probably closer to 10,000. The 828 children released so far thus represent only some 10 percent of the children abducted by the RUF. Concerns are raised that almost all of the released children are boys, meaning that thousands of girls are still held by the terrorists as sex slaves.
UN sources however remain positive by this "significant demonstration" of commitment to the peace process by the RUF. UNAMSIL described an earlier release as "a major step by the RUF in its compliance with the Lomé, Abuja and Freetown agreements signed by the parties to the Sierra Leone conflict."
According to Save the Children, worldwide "an estimated 300,000 children are actively participating in 36 ongoing (or recently ended) conflicts in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas and the former Soviet Union," almost half of them fighting in Africa.