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Nearly 100 child soldiers reunite with their families in Sierra Leone: UN mission

Nearly 100 child soldiers reunite with their families in Sierra Leone: UN mission

Ninety-five children formerly associated with fighting forces have been reunited with their families in northern Sierra Leone, the United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMSIL) said in a statement issued today in Freetown.

The hand-over took place during a ceremony in Makeni, after the children - three of whom were girls - had been brought from a care centre in Lungi. Many of the children had not seen their families in over three years. An additional 130 children are expected to be reunified next week, according to UNAMSIL.

Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, the head of the UN Mission, gave the keynote address, calling on families to welcome their children back "with open arms" and to give them "all the support they need to grow into normal children." He said that the children did not join the fighting forces on their own, but under duress. "We have to make sure we give them all opportunities in life."

Also addressing the gathering, a representative of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Joanna Van Gerpen, drew attention to the work of child protection agencies in making sure the children were safe until they were able to be return home. "All of us want the best possible future for these children," she said. "We want them to be safe and free from the dangers of war." Ms. Van Gerpen emphasized that the entire community, both national and international, was working together to assure "a better future for the children of Sierra Leone."

In other news, over 100 participants from 11 chiefdoms in the northern Koinadugu District met yesterday in Kabala for a day-long sensitization workshop on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The workshop, which was facilitated by UNAMSIL's Human Rights Section, was attended by representatives of the rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and Civil Defence Force (CDF), as well as civil society representatives, including students.