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The BBC's Mark Devenport at the UN
"More than 20,000 child soldiers fighting in the region"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 21 February, 2001, 02:43 GMT
UN finds Congo child soldiers
Congolese rebels
Rebels are believed to be recruiting rural children
The United Nations agency for children, Unicef, says it has discovered 163 child soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo at a training camp in neighbouring Uganda.

Unicef said all the youngsters, who are aged between nine and 17, wanted to go back to their families in and around the Congolese border town of Bunia.

Above all, we have to take every measure to ensure these children are not returned home to be thrown into combat situations

Unicef representative Michel Sidibe
The children were among a group of nearly 700 people who had been flown from the town for "political education" and military drill training in Uganda's Kyankwanzi camp.

Bunia has recently been the scene of fierce fighting between DR Congo's government troops and Ugandan-supported rebels, who control the town.

The UN has previously expressed its concern over the recruitment of children in the Congolese conflict and other regional battlefields, estimating that more than 20,000 are involved in fighting.

Transit camp

A Unicef-led team spent three days in Kyankwanzi, identifying and registering the group of children who had been living there for six months.

The 163 youngsters, among them three girls, will be handed over to Unicef's care by the Ugandan Government on Thursday.

"Above all, we have to take every measure to ensure these children are not returned home to be thrown into combat situations," said Unicef representative Michel Sidibe.

The group will be taken to a transit camp jopintly run by Unicef and World Vision, where they will be provided with "the psycho-social care and schooling they require before they are reunited with their families".

In the meantime, the UN agency said it had sent badly needed supplies of clean water, medicines and sports equipment to the camp.

Earlier in the month, the UN reported that although rebels in the area stopped their recruitment campaigns in the urban areas of Congo, it was still going on in rural sectors.

According to the international organisation, of the 3,000 recruits received by a camp in Mushaki, 60% were under 18.

The DR Congo has been involved in a conflict since 1998 when Rwanda and Uganda backed a rebellion against Laurent Kabila. The war has drawn five neighbouring nations into active combat.

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See also:

18 Jan 01 | Africa
Africa's trade in children
18 May 00 | South Asia
New plea to ban child soldiers
26 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Democratic Republic of Congo
25 Jun 99 | Africa
The child victims of war
18 Sep 00 | Americas
Colombia's child warriors
17 May 00 | Africa
Fighting against child soldiers
21 Feb 01 | Africa
DR Congo talks optimism
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