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UN chief urges action on child soldiers

SECRETARY-GENERAL Ban Ki-moon called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against governments and armed groups that repeatedly recruit and use child soldiers.

In a report today to the UN Security Council covering the period from September 2007 to December 2008. Ban documented grave violations against children in 20 countries and listed 56 parties - both governments and rebel groups.

A council resolution adopted in 2005 established a group to monitor and report on countries and groups using child soldiers, abducting, killing or maiming children, and attacking schools. Ban recommended that the council expand its reporting to include rape and sexual violence.

"Widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence against children, both girls and boys, is increasingly a characteristic of conflict, often perpetrated in a rule-of-law vacuum," he said.

The 20 countries where parties recruit and use children in conflicts include Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Congo, Georgia, Haiti, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Lebanon, Myanmar, Nepal, the Palestinian territory and Israel, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Thailand and Uganda.

Ban called on the council to continue insisting that parties named in the report prepare and implement plans with timetables to halt the recruitment and use of child soldiers, "and to take measures against any parties that fail to comply."

In situations where the council does not have sanctions committees, "the Security Council is urged to consider means by which targeted measures may be applied against persistent perpetrators of grave violations against children," he said.

The secretary-general also called for urgent action by governments to bring those resposible for recruiting and using children to justice and encouraged the Security Council to refer cases of alleged genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity involving children to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution.

"Accountability for perpetrators will create a sense of justice for the victims and it will also have a deterrence effect," Radhika Coomaraswamy, the secretary-general's special representative for children in armed conflict, said in a statement. "Persistent violators have to realize that their crimes will not remain unpunished."

In Afghanistan, for example, Ban said allegations of child recruitment by armed groups, including those associated with the Taliban, have been received from all regions. The UN Mission in Afghanistan has documented cases of children being used by the Taliban to carry out suicide attacks, and in the southern border areas, there are recent allegations of children being offered money "to carry out activities on behalf of armed groups," he said.

"Children have been captured, arrested and detained by Afghan law enforcement agencies and international military forces because of their alleged association with armed groups," Ban added.

In Darfur, the UN reported the recruitment and use of 487 children by various armed groups. In Burundi, 152 children aged 9 to 17 were confirmed to have been recruited by the National Liberation Force rebel group in 2008, he said.

During the reporting period, Ban said, the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo documented 554 children who were newly recruited by rebel groups, including 26 girls, almost all in the volatile east. "A total of 1,098 children, including 48 girls, were documented to have separated from or escaped from armed groups," he added.

While violence has diminished somewhat in Iraq, Ban said, "al-Qaida in Iraq is now suspected of training children to become fighters or insurgents." He cited the discovery of video footage of training sessions during a raid by US soldiers on a hideout in Khan Bani Saad northeast of Baghdad in February 2008 and the arrest of six boys aged 15 to 18 "suspected of being trained by a Saudi al-Qaida member to carry out suicide bombings" in May 2008.

The secretary-general also expressed concern that armed groups in Iraq are using children to transport improvised explosive devices and act as lookouts and suicide bombers. "While there are no reports of children in the new Iraqi army, there are disturbing reports of children being recruited into the ranks of the Awakening Councils," comprised of former Sunni insurgents, he said.

In Somalia, Ban said, an analysis by UNICEF and its partners indicated that approximately 1,300 children were recruited into government forces, Islamist and clan-based armed groups throughout central and southern Somalia, especially in and around the capital Mogadishu.


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