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31 Dec 2008 14:13
The ongoing violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which has caused the displacement of more than 250 000 people, has put children at particular risk of recruitment into armed groups, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) said on Wednesday.
Unicef called on “all armed groups to end the recruitment and use of children”, Pierrette Vu Thi, the agency’s chief in the DRC, said in a statement. They must “immediately release the children within their ranks”.
The children are also prone to sexual exploitation and forced labour, particularly when they are separated from their families and unable to attend school, the agency said, warning that some former child soldiers were being re-recruited by rebels.
In the past four years, about 10 000 children have been released and reintegrated into their communities.
Since September, the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has abducted about 200 children in the Dungu district, Unicef said, adding that it was working with 31 of these youngsters who managed to escape.
The Catholic aid group Caritas accused the LRA this week of massacring at least 400 people over Christmas.
The group’s attacks have ramped up since the Congolese, Ugandan and southern Sudanese armies in mid-December began ground and aerial attacks on LRA bases in the country.
Women and girls, even those in displaced persons camps, still faced the risk of abuse and sexual violence.
Vu Thi said there needed to be “a zero tolerance position toward sexual exploitation and abuse” by the government, armed groups and community leaders.
Fighting during the last decade in the DRC is estimated to have killed more than five million people and left more than a million people internally displaced or refugees in neighbouring countries.
The latest outbreak of violence began over the summer, when Tutsi rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda began fighting with government forces in the Kivu region.—Sapa-dpa
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