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Chad, Central African Republic: UN envoy welcomes release of child soldiers

Chad, Central African Republic: UN envoy welcomes release of child soldiers

Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Chad has agreed to release all former child combatants held in detention, while armed rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) have also committed to freeing any children in their ranks, a top United Nations envoy announced today after a six day trip to the two countries.

“I have been given assurances that parties involved in conflict have agreed to free children in both countries,” the UN’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said in a statement today. “The next challenge will be to reintegrate the children with their families and communities,” she added.

In Chad the Government has agreed to let UN agencies visit army camps and training centres to verify the releases and identify children, Ms. Coomaraswamy told reporters today in New York, after completing her visit. A Government task force on reintegration of children will also be created.

Ms. Coomaraswamy noted, however, that in Chad there have still not been any commitments on child recruitment by non-government armed groups who, 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.

In the northwest of the Central African Republic (CAR) Ms. Coomaraswamy held meetings with internally displaced families.

“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.”

She added that UNICEF has begun to set up makeshift schools in the bush so that children can go to classes, but stressed that there were no health centres or health facilities anywhere in the area.

However, Ms. Coomaraswamy told reporters that there were some grounds for optimism in the country after efforts by the UN and the international diplomatic community to broker a peace accord.

“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 said.