Saturday, 30 December 2006

UN repeats call for action on child soldiers – Clive Parker

The UN Security Council has repeated its call for action against the recruitment of child soldiers in countries considered the worst offenders, including Burma.

During a special day-long session to consider a UN report on progress to fight the problem, the council heard of "reliable reports" that the Tatmadaw (Burma Army) continues to recruit child soldiers. The junta was also accused of failing to cooperate fully with the UN in Burma in attempts to eradicate the problem, charges denied by the government.

Speaking to the council, Burmese government representative Kyaw Tint Swe said the report contained "unfounded allegations," and that appropriate measures had been put into place to eradicate the problem, including discharging minors from the military.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for children and armed conflict, said that commitments to demobilize troops in Burma, along with the Ivory Coast, Burundi and Uganda, "would result in concrete action". However, her report to the council said it was currently impossible to verify Burmese government efforts to eradicate the problem.

"The United Nations country team is aware of some cases of children being released from army service [in Burma] but is unable to verify the effectiveness of the [government] committee’s plan of action or whether all children are being screened out of the Government armed forces," the report concluded.
In January 2004, Burma set up a committee to address the problem following reports of extensive use of child soldiers.

Kyaw Tint Swe again criticized the UN decision to keep the Burmese army on a blacklist of recruiters of children. Insurgent groups including the Karen National Union and the Karenni National Progressive Party were removed from the list following consultations with the UN Children’s Agency earlier this year and are currently working with the UN to eradicate the problem.

The UNICEF office in Rangoon was unavailable for further comment on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s discussion at the Security Council means that Burma remains under pressure to provide evidence to the UN that it is taking effective measures to end the practice of recruiting minors into the army. Successive resolutions include the provision of a complete ban on arms sales to countries that persistently fail to address the problem.

The Tatmadaw has long been accused of forcibly recruiting children to its 400,000-strong armed forces. In 2004, the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported that the junta had in some cases kidnapped children as young as 11, forcing them to serve in the military. At the time, it estimated that up to 20 percent of Tatmadaw and ethnic insurgency forces were under 18-the current legal age of conscription-which would have put the total number of child soldiers in Burma at nearly 90,000, the highest of any country in the world.

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