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FIJI: Rebels train child soldiers

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By Joe Yaya ©
USP Journalism Programme

SUVA: Young Fijian men - and children - who are part of the rebel group's private army are undergoing training in physical combat inside the parliamentary complex.

Rebel group spokesman Ratu Timoci Silatolu says they are preparing the force in case a confrontation with the military happens.

"We're in a situation where confrontation can occur at anytime, so we have to be realistic. We're just being practical," he told the Daily Post.

About 200 youths aged between 10 and 30 have been undergoing military training by rebel soldiers supporting rebel leader George Speight's cause, according to Ratu Timoci.

He emphasised the fact that the youths do not handle any arms, and their exercises only involved footdrill and physical training.

Ratu Timoci said the exercise was implemented to instill discipline in the youths and keep them away from trouble.

"They don't handle guns. The arms belong only to the militant group.

"It was done on the basis of isolating the criminal element. This started in response to the criminal activity being blamed on the youths from inside parliament."

The Methodist Church has reacted with mixed feelings.

The church's director of social welfare, Paula Sotutu told the Daily Post that training the youths to impart discipline in them was good.

"But if the training is for other purposes, then that should not be condoned," he said.

Meanwhile, talks between George Speight and the military continued today with no sign of a breakthrough concerning the release of the hostages inside Parliament.

The negotiations are being held at the official residence of the Vice-President, Ratu Josefa Iloilo, in suburban about 400m from Parliament House.

According to a FM96 reporter speaking live from the talks venue today, Speight's group have handed in a new set of demands to the military.

The signing of the agreement between the rebels and the military, to be known as the Muanikau Accord, was supposed to be formalised at 11am this morning. The accord stipulates that the hostages be released three hours after the peace accord is signed by both sides.

However, there seems to be confusion about the actual time frame given to the rebels to release the hostages once the agreement is signed.

The head of the rebel military gunmen inside parliament, Colonel Ilisoni Ligairi, told FM96 that it would take another 24 to 36 hours to release the hostages once the agreement was signed.

"We don't want this to end abruptly. We want to sit down with them and make amends. We want to mend our relationship with the hostages.

"We want to spend time with them so that when they leave this place, everything will be forgotten."

+++niuswire

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