Burundi

Burundi: Army arrests scores of child soldiers

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BUJUMBURA, 1 Jul 2005 (IRIN) - Burundi's army said on Friday that some 100 child combatants had been arrested in the last two weeks at various locations around the country. They had been recruited by the only active rebel movement in the country, the Forces national de liberation.

Some were arrested as they crossed into Burundi from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where they were undergoing military training, army spokesman Maj Adolphe Manirakiza said in Bujumbura, the nation's capital.

Others were arrested in Bujumbura and the provinces of Bujumbura Rural, Bubanza, Kayanza, Muramvya and Muyinga. They were all preparing to disrupt the 4 July legislative elections, he said.

He said the majority of those arrested were between 10 and 15 years old, who the FNL had been recruited since May after it signed of the cease-fire agreement with the government.

"The children were told that when the war ends they would receive a demobilisation allowance or be integrated in the national army," Manirakiza added.

One of the children arrested in Rugazi commune, part of Bubanza Province, said national television reporters on Thursday that he and other children had been porters for the rebel group. He also said more senior FNL members had threatened to kill them if they tried to return home.

One political group has questioned the affiliation of the children.

"It is astonishing that these supposedly FNL rebels are getting themselves arrested so easily," said Jean de Dieu Mutabazi, the spokesman for the Front pour la democratie au Burundi (FRODEBU).

FRODEBU faired poorly in the recent municipal elections and some of its opponents have been accusing it of collaborating with the FNL to sabotage the 4 July elections. Mutabazi denied this but he said that since the result of the last elections on 3 June FRODEBU had started to have some "political collaboration" with the FNL.

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