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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 February, 2005, 10:08 GMT
Ugandan army recruiting children
Villagers being evacuated in an army truck
The army admits to recruiting underage children
Hundreds of former child soldiers abducted by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army are returning to the battlefield to fight for the Ugandan army.

Army spokesman Major Shaban Bantariza admits some of them are under the legal age of 18 but says signing them up is the lesser of two evils.

During the 19 years of conflict in northern Uganda, over 20,000 children have been abducted by the rebel LRA.

Thousands have died but many have escaped or been captured by the army.

These have later been freed under amnesty.

The BBC's Will Ross in Kampala says that in the LRA, the children are usually brainwashed and given the choice: "Kill or be killed".

Concerns

But with the north of Uganda still devastated by the war, there are few options open for those escaping from the LRA.

So some are returning to the war but fighting on the other side.

Former abducted child soldiers after their escape

The Ugandan military says around 800 former LRA fighters have now joined the national army.

"Between two evils, you choose the lesser - they have no alternative employment, where can they go?" asked Major Bantariza.

There has been concern raised in the local media that former LRA fighters who are even younger than 16 or 17 are joining the Ugandan military.

Questions are being raised over whether those escaping are in a position to make a rational decision on what to do with their lives.

The United Nations Children's Fund, Unicef, says those who were abducted into the LRA have already suffered enough and need comprehensive rehabilitation before they are given the option of joining the military.

Unicef has been working to identify underage soldiers and attempt to get them out.

It says the Ugandan army has been fairly cooperative in this process.

But accessing operational areas is often impossible, our reporter says.




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