World More than 300 child sol­diers re­leased in South Su­dan

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - World - 16

MORE than 300 child sol­diers were re­leased Wed­nes­day by armed groups in South Su­dan, the sec­ond­largest such re­lease since civil war be­gan five years ago. Over 19,000 chil­dren are thought to have been re­cruited by all sides.

The “lay­ing down of the guns” cer­e­mony for 87 girls and 224 boys was the first step in a process that should see at least 700 child sol­diers freed in the com­ing weeks, the United Na­tions said.

Putting down weapons and re­join­ing nor­mal life is just the “begin­ning of the jour­ney,” said the head of the UN mis­sion in South Su­dan, David Shearer.

The UN has re­leased al­most 2,000 child sol­diers so far. More than 10 per­cent of them have been un­der age 13.

Hu­man rights groups say child re­cruit­ment con­tin­ues, even as South Su­dan’s gov­ern­ment says it has com­mit­ted to end­ing the prac­tice.

“The con­tin­ued re­cruit­ment and use of chil­dren by the mil­i­tary and op­pos­ing armed groups points to the ut­ter im­punity that reigns in South Su­dan, and the ter­ri­ble cost of this war on chil­dren,” Mausi Se­gun, Africa di­rec­tor at Hu­man Rights Watch, said in a new re­port this week.

One 17-year-old who had been ab­ducted and forced to fight at­tended Wed­nes­day’s cer­e­mony while clasp­ing his arms around his stom­ach and star­ing at the ground. He gave only his first name, Christo­pher.

“They told me to kill my mother,” he said, his voice barely au­di­ble.

Af­ter be­ing seized from his home by op­po­si­tion sol­diers at the age of 10 dur­ing a pe­riod of lo­calised fight­ing, he said his mother came into the bush to plead with his com­man­ders to set him free.

“When she came they told me to shoot her or I’d be killed in­stead,” the boy said. “I had no op­tion, I just asked God to for­give me.” But he had never shot a gun, and when he pulled the trig­ger it jammed. His mother es­caped.

Now freed, Christo­pher said his fam­ily has for­given him.

The re­leased chil­dren will be re­uni­fied with their fam­i­lies and given three months’ worth of food as­sis­tance and psy­choso­cial sup­port, along with the op­por­tu­nity to go to school.

Al­though aid work­ers were op­ti­mistic, they wor­ried that re­newed vi­o­lence could force the chil­dren back into armed groups. A new round of peace talks be­gan this week in neigh­bor­ing Ethiopia, me­di­ated by a re­gional bloc.

“If peace isn’t sus­tained and peo­ple are forced to the bush, we’ll lose these chil­dren,” said Anne Had­jixros, a child pro­tec­tion of­fi­cer with UNICEF. to free the im­pris­oned op­po­si­tion politi­cians.

The United Na­tions, In­dia and other for­eign gov­ern­ments have ex­pressed con­cern over the state of emer­gency and have urged Yameen to re­spect the ear­lier court or­der.

Po­lice also this week ar­rested the coun­try’s for­mer dic­ta­tor, Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, who was pres­i­dent from 1978 to 2008, when the Mal­dives be­came a mul­ti­party democ­racy. He is ac­cused of try­ing to oust the gov­ern­ment, run by his half brother.

The Mal­dives is an ar­chi­pel­ago of more than 1,000 is­lands with fewer than 400,000 cit­i­zens, more than one-third of them liv­ing in the crowded cap­i­tal city, Male. Tourism now dom­i­nates the econ­omy, with wealthy for­eign­ers flown to hy­per­ex­pen­sive re­sort is­lands.

The po­lit­i­cal tur­moil has been limited to the cap­i­tal of Male, far from many tourist des­ti­na­tions. Sev­eral coun­tries have up­dated their ad­vice to trav­el­ers since the cri­sis be­gan, urg­ing them to be cau­tious. – AP

A young child sol­dier sits on the ground at a re­lease cer­e­mony, where he and oth­ers laid down their weapons and traded in their uni­forms to re­turn to “nor­mal life”, in Yambio, South Su­dan, Fe­bru­ary 7. Photo: AP

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