The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today called for the immediate, unconditional release of 90 pupils who were abducted from their schools in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by members of the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
The LRA took 50 children from a primary school in Kiliwa and 40 others from a secondary school in Duru as part of a series of simultaneous attacks last Wednesday on three villages in the DRC’s Orientale province.
Local authorities believe the kidnapped children have been taken to nearby LRA bases in the forest, according to a UNICEF press release issued today.
Julien Harneis, the chief of field operations for UNICEF in the eastern DRC, called for the release of the children without any preconditions.
“UNICEF is very concerned that they will now be forced to fight or support fighting, putting their lives at risk,” Mr. Harneis said, stressing that the abduction and use of children in armed groups constitutes a war crime and a crime against humanity.
Since the mid-1980s, the LRA has waged war in northern Uganda against Government forces in that country and became notorious for its abduction and use of child soldiers during the conflict.
Its fighters have often been based in neighbouring southern Sudan or in north-eastern DRC, although recently the LRA and Uganda have signed several peace agreements, raising hopes of a comprehensive accord to formally end the entire conflict.
Local authorities in Orientale province said that, aside from the child abductions, LRA members killed three civilians and kidnapped a village chief and two Italian missionaries during their attacks last Wednesday. Health centres were looted and many houses were burned.
In the case of Kiliwa, the only building left standing in the entire village was the health centre, and the entire population has fled and headed for the town of Dungu.
UNICEF said it was working with other humanitarian agencies to coordinate its emergency response following the abduction.