Sierra Leone

UN military observers in Sierra Leone secure release of abducted children

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A United Nations military observer team in Sierra Leone Tuesday secured the release of 37 children ex-combatants being held by former rebels, a UN Spokesman said today.
Fred Eckhard, Spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan, said the children, some as young as six and including one girl, had been held in the rebel stronghold of Occra Hills about 70 km from the capital, Freetown. Some of the younger children appeared to be malnourished, Mr. Eckhard added. They were taken to Freetown and handed over to the care of United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

UNICEF estimates that about 5,000 children have been involved in the conflict in Sierra Leone. More than half the reported 4,000 children still missing have been officially classified as cases of abduction. In 1999, 801 children were released by rebel forces to UNICEF.

This is the second such release negotiated by UN military observers this year. Nearly 30 children were freed on 22 January after being held in the same area.