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Tuesday, 19 November, 2002, 14:41 GMT
No-one fighting for Angola's child soldiers
Ex-Unita rebels at Capembe camp
Former soldiers receive food, but little other assistance

During the years of war in Angola, both the government army and the Unita rebels regularly forced children to fight in their ranks.


I learnt to attack, to shoot...The first time I was in battle I was 14 years old

Jose, ex Unita soldier
Now that the war is over, these child soldiers seem to have largely been forgotten by the authorities.

Fifteen-year-old Jose says he was a soldier - a radio operator.

I meet Jose at Capembe in south-eastern Angola, one of the reception centres for former Unita soldiers.

Military training

He says that he served for four years, in charge of communications between one area and another, and served as a radio operator during a battle.

All he can remember is that after the battle there was hunger and people were left wounded. Other people ran away.

Ex Unita combattant Jose
At 15, Jose has seen a lot of violence

As we talk, Jose starts to admit that he was more than just a radio operator, and underwent military training at Unita's former headquarters in Jamba.

"I learnt to attack, to shoot. I had an AKM, I used it in battle. The first time I was in battle I was 14 years old," Jose says.

'Volunteer'

Unknown numbers of children were forcibly conscripted both by Unita and by the Angolan Armed Forces during the course of the war.

I ask Jose who exactly ordered him to join the army, but he insists he was a volunteer. Did no-one encourage him to fight?

"I encouraged myself," he says. We had to defend our country because we were at war."

Jose believes his parents are still alive, but when I ask him how he became separated from them his answers become difficult to understand.

Eduardo, a Unita official in the camp who is familiar with Jose's story, explains what happened.

"His parents left him at Jamba when they went to Malanje," Eduardo says.

Separated

"Because he was in military service they were not allowed to take them with him. They wanted to go back to Malanje because it was their land. Since then he has never met his parents. But he knows they are still alive and in Malanje."

Separated from their families and communities, and forced into the trauma of war, child soldiers need special care and support if they are to have any hope of living normal lives as adults.

"It's extremely complex. You're talking about children who were involved in armed conflict when they were too young, some of them possibly children of adult soldiers," Abubakar Sultan, the child protection officer for the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) in Angola says.

Former Unita guerrillas
Former Unita soldiers went to demobilisation camps in April

"Others are children who were kidnapped from their families, and still you might have children who were born and brought up in a context of violence," he says.

"So talking about rehabilitation and reintegration of these children means you have to basically rebuild their lives, you have to deal with their psycho-social problems that they're facing at the moment."

Mr Sultan says it is necessary to "rebuild their access to basic education and help them on a day-to-day basis to cope with the conflicts, with the dilemmas, with the challenges of life back in their communities".

Support for the former Unita soldiers has so far remained on the level of supplying basic foodstuffs.

And in the various government and non-governmental programmes for the social reintegration of former combatants, the special needs of children get not a single mention.

Jonas Savimbi, killed after 26 years of civil war

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05 Nov 02 | Africa
18 Oct 02 | Africa
01 Nov 02 | Business
31 May 01 | Business
24 May 01 | Africa
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