CAR

Central African rebels to free 400 child soldiers

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BANGUI, April 18 (Reuters) - Rebels fighting a low-intensity war in the northeast of Central African Republic, one of the poorest countries on earth, have agreed to release 400 child soldiers, the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said on Friday.

General Damane Zakaria, head and founder of the Assembly of the Union of Democratic Forces rebels, has already furnished UNICEF with a list of 220 children to be freed.

A spokeswoman for UNICEF in the capital Bangui said the children were expected to be demobilised in early June, once the last details of the agreement have been finalised.

"It is imperative for UNICEF to move fast to free these children from this environment of violence," said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF representative in Central African Republic.

The agency said it would work with local communities to bolster social services and facilitate the reinsertion of child soldiers into the community.

Central African Republic, the world's sixth poorest country according to U.N. figures, did not sign the Paris Principles in February, which call upon states to demobilize child soldiers.

It has suffered decades of instability and waves of military coups. Current President Francois Bozize seized power in a 2003 coup before legitimising his rule at the ballot box in 2005.

UNICEF said last month that a quarter of the country's 4 million population were suffering the effects of the civil war or spillover from conflicts in neighbouring Sudan and Chad. More than 300,000 people had been driven from their homes, it said.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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