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Colombia: UN agency voices concern over alleged recruitment of refugee boy soldiers

Colombia: UN agency voices concern over alleged recruitment of refugee boy soldiers

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today voiced concern about refugee children being recruited to fight in Colombia, saying it has received reports that illegal armed groups have been recruiting Colombian boys in the border areas of Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.

"We fear that with the intensification of the conflict, the recruitment of children by armed groups from Colombia could increase, having serious consequences for the protection of all refugees and asylum-seekers, particularly children," UNHCR spokesman Rupert Colville said in Geneva.

"Moreover, there is a serious danger that this practice, which violates international law and the rights of children, could add to the confusion between armed combatants fighting in Colombia and the innocent civilian victims of the conflict who are in need of protection," he added.

Meanwhile in other news, UNHCR's partners in Panama have confirmed the arrival of a group of 64 Colombian civilians in the remote border area of the Darien jungle who had been fleeing fighting in the northwestern Urabá region of Colombia, Mr. Colville said.

The group, which includes 36 children, had fled the region at the beginning of May before the recent massacre at Bojayá, in which 117 people, including 45 children, were killed in an attack on a church. Since then, fighting between leftist guerrilla groups and right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia has resulted in hundreds of casualties.

In Colombia itself, UNHCR has been helping the local authorities in Urabá coordinate the humanitarian response to the crisis, Mr. Colville said. A UNHCR team has been present in the region since 9 May, registering and aiding in the delivery of relief assistance to the displaced people from Bojayá.