- Hundreds of former child combatants who are currently detained in Chad and the Central African Republic (CAR) rebel camps will soon return to civilian life with their families and communities, following an agreement between the United Nations’ top envoy and the two states.
In a statement released yesterday, the UN’s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, confirmed that after her six-day trip to the two countries, an agreement was reached to release the young soldiers as soon the UN presented a detailed action plan for their integration.
“I have been given assurances that parties involved in conflict have agreed to free children in both countries. The next challenge will be to reintegrate the children with their families and communities,” Ms Coomaraswamy said.
She noted that the Chad Government has agreed to let UN agencies to visit army camps and training centres to verify the releases as well as identify children. A Government task force on re-integration of children will also be created.
She however held that there was no commitment on Chad’s part, with regard to child recruitment by non-government armed groups, that she said, “recruit a great many children.”
In Chad, the UN envoy met with rebel leader Laurent Djim Wei of the Armée Populaire pour la Restauration de la Démocratie (APRD) who agreed to provide a list of all children associated with his group and to release them once the UN presents an action plan for their reintegration.
“We’re very happy about this. We don’t know the exact numbers but this should happen in the near future,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said, but added that currently there are not enough resources for the effective reintegration of children into their communities. She said her office and the UN country team in Chad would now try to raise funds for the process.
The UN envoy also met with Zacharia Damane, of the Union des Forces Démocratiques pour l’Unité (UFDR), an armed group in the north-east of the country, to monitor compliance with an accord signed a year ago with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government on the release of children.
Ms Coomaraswamy has held meetings with internally displaced families in the northwest of the CAR.
“They do not live in camps. They actually go back to the bush and the living conditions are intolerable,” she said. “They showed us the water they drink which is full of mud… We spoke with the women separately and they told us stories of sexual violence in the bush and they also told us how children were recruited and then re-recruited, if they ran away, by the non-state actors in the region.”
According to her, UNICEF has begun to set up makeshift schools in the bush so that children could go to classes, but stressed that there were no health centres or health facilities anywhere in the area.
“There is a hope that by the end of this month there will be a major agreement among all the armed actors in CAR and we have been pushing all sides to include a provision for the protection of children in the peace agreement,” she added.
During her visit, Ms Coomaraswamy raised the issue of girls who were sexually abused in the camps.
She stressed the need to help the victims and take legal actions against perpetrators.
This situation of the mobilisation of children as young as 12, into rebel groups as child combatants, is rampant in most conflict areas in Africa and the UN has over the years been working tirelessly but in vain, to demobilise them.
According to UN reports, Chad has been affected by the humanitarian crisis since 2001. As of 2008, the country has hosted over 280,000 refuges from the war torn Sudan’s Darfur region, over 55,000 from the CAR, as well as over 170,000 internally displaced persons.
UNICEF reports show that the threat of kidnappings, rape and killings are an everyday occurrence for the people of the CAR. On one of the few principal roads in CAR’s Mia Farrow region, it is reported that 1,110 women and girls as young as four have been raped on the route in the past year and most of the cases are never reported, while about 197,000 were internally displaced in the past year.
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