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The BBC's Andrew Gilligan
"He is the only soldier in the room over the age of about seventeen"
 real 28k

Monique Nagelkerke, Save the Children
"Its a positive start"
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 16:39 GMT 17:39 UK
Child soldiers to be disarmed
Abu Kamara
Abu Kamara, 14, has been removed from the front line
All children fighting in the Sierra Leone Army are to be disarmed and removed from the frontline following a request from the UK Government.

President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah told Britain's High Commissioner Alan Jones that all soldiers aged under 18 will now be demobilised from pro-government forces.

The request followed an outcry over a photograph of a 14-year-old boy carrying what appeared to be a British rifle which was printed in the UK press.

Meanwhile, the United Nations says it is in contact with rebel commanders in a bid to find a an alternative negotiating partner to detained rebel leader Foday Sankoh whom they say is no longer a "credible" person

This follows a report that the 29 United Nations peacekeepers who were freed earlier this week by rebels in Sierra Leone are reported to have returned to rejoin their units.

Child soldiers widepread

President Kabbah has said thta the photographed boy, Abu Kamara, has since been stripped of his weapon and removed from the war zone.


President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah
President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah: All under-18s will be demobilised
And any commanders allowing children to fight will be subjected to severe disciplinary action, the government now says.

Britain is expected to send about 10,000 self-loading rifles and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition to the west African country

It is part of its commitment to help the Sierra Leone Government defeat Revolutionary United Front rebels.

According to United Nations' estimates, more than 100,000 child soldiers are fighting in conflicts in Africa.

Many countries including Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda have children as young as seven fighting for their governments.

Aid workers estimate that as many as half the 15,000 rebel fighters in Sierra Leone may be children.

Antonio Cabral, Cafod's programme officer for Sierra Leone, said: "They use them because they are agile, and under the influence of drugs they have no fear. They are frontline troops."

Hostages

The 29 freed Zambian peacekeepers who were the latest group of hostages released by the RUF rebels on the border with Liberia, are reported to have returned to rejoin their units.

The rebels are still holding about 260 UN soldiers, most of them from Zambia.

The UN says it hopes more will be released before the weekend.

On Wednesday four government soldiers and two foreign journalists were killed in a rebel ambush.

The journalists were travelling in army trucks when they came under fire near the strategic Rogberi Junction about 80 km (50 miles) north-east of Freetown.

Also on Wednesday, the UN said six peacekeepers had died since the beginning of the month and another six corpses discovered wearing UN uniforms need to be formally identified.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Africa
Fatal ambush in Sierra Leone
20 May 00 | Africa
UN to boost Sierra Leone force
17 May 00 | Africa
Fighting against child soldiers
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