Rebels free 200 child soldiers in Central Africa

July 10th, 2009 - 4:13 am ICT by IANS  

Geneva, July 10, (IANS) A rebel group in the Central African Republic (CAR) has freed around 200 child soldiers, some as young as 10 years old, as part of a peace deal with the government, the WAM news agency reported Thursday.
The People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) has released 166 boys and 16 girls aged between 10 and 17 since April, the report said citing the UNICEF.

A majority of the freed children have been already reunited with their families, the UNICEF said in a statement.

The UN Children’s Fund has welcomed the release of children and called for more demobilisation of armed groups in the conflict-torn country.

Last year, the rebels signed a peace deal with the government which paved the way for release of child soldiers, among a host of other measures.

“We are extremely pleased that APRD leaders are following through with their commitment to surrender the children in their ranks,” Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF’s representative in Bangui, the CAR capital, said.

The UN agency has been working closely with the CAR government and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for the release of child soldiers, majority of whom belong to the northern Ouham Pend province.

Two transit centres were set up where each released child soldier was given a “demobilisation kit” that includes clothes, sleeping mats, blankets and personal hygiene items.

The former soldiers also receive medical check-ups, basic literacy classes and counseling. Mdoe said the child soldiers come from a region where they lack basic services.

Sporadic fighting still continues in northern CAR, particularly near the borders with Chad and Sudan.

“Reintegration is a long and often difficult process in any circumstance, and the prevailing climate of insecurity adds to the challenges,” Mdoe said.

The UNICEF has called for an additional $1 million to ensure the demobilisation and reintegration of the child soldiers, he added.

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