Militias recruiting children in Liberia

2012-06-06 22:25

Dakar - Militias were recruiting children in far eastern Liberia, close to the border with Ivory Coast, advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, accusing the Liberian government of doing nothing to stop them.

Matt Wells of HRW told dpa that the Liberia-based militia were loyal to ousted Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, whose war crimes tribunal is to begin in The Hague later this month.

They were plotting and carrying out attacks on villages on the Ivory Coast side of the border, targeting areas that were loyal to current Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara during the country's 2010-11 conflict, HRW said in a report released Wednesday.

"Many of these same individuals are involved in recent cross-border attacks as well as the recruitment of children, yet the Liberian authorities have failed to take action against this sub-regional threat," Wells said.

The militias set up training camps along the border during the conflict, but continued to operate and recruit more fighters after it had ended.

They were now carrying out attacks on villages that were disloyal to Gbagbo, who had refused to stand down after losing presidential elections in 2010, HRW said.

Wells told dpa that children as young as 14 were enrolled in the camps -reminiscent of the child soldiers who came to symbolize the brutal Liberian conflict that ended in 2003.

Liberia's government has since turned its eye to development and was praised last month by the UN Security Council for overcoming post-conflict instability.

Impartial justice

But Wells said the government had buried its head in the sand, rather than seek justice for those carrying out the attacks.

"The Liberian government has essentially turned a blind eye to the dozens of suspected war criminals who crossed into Liberia at the end of the Ivorian crisis," Wells said.

Well said the presence of militias threatened to undermine post-conflict progress made by both Liberia and Ivory Coast.

"There remain deep communal divisions in Cte d'Ivoire, in part because of the continued failure of the Ivorian government to prosecute those in its own camp who committed grave crimes during the crisis," he said.

"The continued failure to provide impartial justice could drive some pro-Gbagbo moderates toward these hardliners committed to carrying out attacks, posing an even greater threat to ending the country's decade of grave human rights abuses."

- SAPA
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