KINSHASA, 7 February (IRIN) - The
United Nations has denounced the widespread recruitment of child soldiers
by Thomas Lubanga's Union des patriotes congolais pour la reconciliation
et la paix (UPC/RP), a largely Hema ethnic militia based in the northeastern
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) city of Bunia.
Radio Okapi, run by the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), reported that Lubanga had decreed that each family in the area under its control must contribute to the war effort by providing a cow, money, or a child for the UPC/RP's rebel militia.
The UN noted that there were children aged between 10 years and 16 years armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles within the UPC/RP.
"They promised us a lot of things if we joined the militia, but we have not yet seen anything," one child soldier told IRIN on condition of anonymity, saying he "feared being punished".
MONUC's child protection unit has condemned the rebels' exploitation of children, although it has no precise figures regarding their numbers. However, the UN Children's Fund, Save the Children, and social service agencies of the DRC report that there are more than 30,000 child soldiers among the ranks of the various belligerents in the DRC.
"MONUC has never notified us that we should not recruit children," Lubanga said.
Agencies working in the domain of child protection in the DRC have obtained agreements from the Kinshasa government and the main rebel movements - namely, the Mouvement de liberation du Congo, the Rassemblement congolais pour la democratie (RCD-Goma), and the RCD-Kisangani/Mouvement de liberation - for the demobilisation of child soldiers.
"As at today, close to 1,120 children have already been demobilised in this current pilot phase: 220 on the government side and 900 in rebel-controlled areas in the east of the country, but 120 have been re-recruited," Claudine Malela Kabangu, coordinator of the National Office for Reinsertion, told IRIN.
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