DRC rebels hunting escaped child soldiers

2013-06-10 22:22
A young Sudan People's Liberation Army child soldier holds a gun during the demobilisation of soldiers at Rumbek , sourthern Sudan. (Sayyid Azim, AP)

A young Sudan People's Liberation Army child soldier holds a gun during the demobilisation of soldiers at Rumbek , sourthern Sudan. (Sayyid Azim, AP)

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Johannesburg - The M23 militia in Congo is attempting to recapture a group of 53 child soldiers who recently escaped the militia's grasp, the United Nations said on Monday.

The announcement came as M23 and the Congolese government were to resume peace talks in neighbouring Uganda.

Both sides have been accused by human rights groups of committing serious abuses, though the rebels in particular have been criticised for illegal war tactics.

According to the UN's mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco), 70 children who were forcibly recruited by M23 in the north-east of the country recently escaped from the militia.

While 17 have fled the area to safety, 53 remain at risk of being recaptured.

"Monusco continues to receive worrying reports that members of the M23 are meeting local chiefs and requesting them to identify and handover combatants who have deserted from the group," the UN said in a statement.

Last year, Thomas Lubanga, a Congolese warlord, became the first person ever convicted of war crimes by the International Criminal Court. He was given a 14-year jail sentence for recruiting child soldiers.

"I want to remind their [M23] leaders that they will be personally held accountable for any violations against children," said Leila Zerrougui, the UN's special envoy for children in conflict zones.

Last month, tensions flared between M23 and government soldiers near Goma, a key city in eastern Congo. Fighting lasted for several days, ending just as UN chief Ban Ki-moon touched down in the city for a brief visit.

These were the first battles since the rebels took Goma late last year and held on to the city for several weeks before agreeing to retreat in return for talks with the government.

The first rounds of negotiations did not produce any results and there was little sign the sides would return to the negotiating table - until Ban's last visit.

In the meantime, a new 3 000-strong UN intervention force is being deployed to eastern Congo to tackle M23 and other armed groups.

Read more on:    un  |  m23  |  drc  |  central africa  |  child abuse

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