Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Rebel Groups Welcome UN’s Child Soldiers Probe

Burma’s Karen National Union (KNU) and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) said Tuesday they would welcome the arrival of a UN team which is being formed to look into charges that they are recruiting child soldiers.

The UN announced earlier on Tuesday that it was sending a team to Burma in order to press the ethnic rebel groups and the Burmese regime to stop using child soldiers.

The announcement followed a recent allegation by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the Burmese army and ethnic rebel groups, including the KNU, are recruiting children to serve as fighters. The KNU and KNPP both denied the allegation.

KNU General-Secretary Zipporah Sein said: “I want to tell the UN to come to our areas and monitor the situation by itself. We will allow them if they want to come.”

She said the KNU had stopped the recruitment of child soldiers since 2003 and had signed an agreement with UNICEF in 2007 banning the practice.

Zipporah Sein conceded that the KNU had allowed children to serve as soldiers in the past as some young people wanted to sign up after they and their families suffered torture and other abuse at the hands of Burmese army troops.

The KNPP also denied recruiting child soldiers and said the proposed UN team would be welcome to inspect its territory.

Khu Oo Reh, secretary 1 of the KNPP said: “We warmly welcome them to come and witness the situation in our area.”

According to an Associated Press report, the UN Security Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to name and shame nations and rebel groups engaged in conflicts leading to children being killed, maimed and raped.

The UN stressed the council's intention “to take action,” including possible sanctions against governments and insurgent groups that continue violating international law on the rights and protection of children in armed conflicts.

Mexico’s UN Ambassador, Claude Heller, said: “Notwithstanding, we must also recognize that there is still much to be done if we want children to never again fall victim to the spiral of violence that armed conflicts generate.”

The latest report by Ban in June accused the Burmese junta of failing to provide proof of measures it said it was taking to stop the use of child soldiers, and of blocking UN access to its associated rebel groups.

The UN’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, was quoted by Reuters as saying: “We still are not sure how comprehensive that is and the extent of it. And so I am dispatching a team [to Burma] at the end of this month.”

The team would hold talks with Burmese regime and rebel groups that made peace with the regime, said Coomaraswamy.

Aye Myint, a leader of a social and labor rights group inside Burma, Guiding Star, said that the recruitment of the child soldiers is still widely practiced in the Burmese army.

In the last three months, more than 20 children who say they were forced by Burmese officials to serve as soldiers were helped by Aye Myint’s group and International Labour Organization to return to their families.

Aye Myint said the latest, Ye Ko Ko, 17, was reunited on Tuesday with his parents. Another young soldier, Aung Zaw Myo, 14, had contacted his family on Tuesday but remained in the Burmese army.

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