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Uganda agreeds to cleanse army of child soldiers

Uganda has agreed to cleanse its army of child soldiers, UN envoy says

A senior United Nations envoy just back from Uganda said today that while children there are still at grave risk because of abuses by a rebel group in the north of the country, they will have some new protections now that the Government has agreed to a set of principles aimed at ending the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers in its armed forces.

“If those principles are implemented, the country might be taken off the Security Council list of countries using child soldiers,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, told reporters at UN Headquarters upon her return from the East African country.

Although she said the Government does not have an active policy of recruiting children, in the rebel-beset north of the country some children had “slipped through the cracks” and were in Ugandan army forces as well as in the Local Defence Units (LDUs).

Ms. Coomaraswamy stressed that the rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) still remains the largest threat to children in Uganda, with at least 25,000 children known to have been recruited during their 20-year campaign of terror in the region, which has displaced over 1 million people.

The LRA uses boys and girls as fighters and porters, with children often subjected to extreme violence shortly after abduction and many girls allocated to officers in a form of institutional rape.

“They have perpetrated horrific acts,” she said. “The LRA has to be held accountable for some of those actions.”

However, because of the lack of security in northern Uganda, and because the judicial machinery does not function there, there had been no real end to impunity.

In addition, she said that the humanitarian outlook of demobilized children remained bleak. Those children had only been re-integrated into camps, where life was terrible, and not into general society.

There was a need for a more “holistic development vision” to allow them to have other livelihoods and to prevent them from slipping back into military activities, she said.

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