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Page last updated at 09:51 GMT, Monday, 29 September 2008 10:51 UK

Congo blasts child soldier claim

File photo of displaced Congolese
Civilians have repeatedly been displaced by violence in DR Congo

A Democratic Republic of Congo minister has challenged a report claiming a rise in the recruitment of child soldiers and rape in the east of the country.

Defence Minister Chikez Diemu said authorities were tackling the problems, arresting suspects and trying them in military courts.

The report by Amnesty International said that for every two child soldiers released, five were being recruited.

The report cited victims of conflict in North Kivu province.

DR Congo's army has been battling fighters loyal to renegade General Laurent Nkunda in the east of the country, causing tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

'Torture'

The report said that some child soldiers who had been demobilised were being re-recruited by armed groups.

It also said government security forces had "unlawfully detained and in some cases tortured and ill-treated captured children, and continue to rape and sexually abuse women and girls".

Mr Diemu told the BBC's Network Africa programme he knew of no reports that the armed forces were recruiting children.

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"I wouldn't see for which reason [the army] would be recruiting kids," he said.

With renewed fighting in eastern DR Congo, the report said child soldiers who attempt to escape are killed or tortured, sometimes in front of other children.

Women and girls continue to be raped, often in public and in front of family members, it said.

But Mr Diemu said that reports on the situation in North Kivu should also say that "something is being done".

"A great deal has been achieved," he said, adding: "We still have to run to end this phenomenon, which is tragic."

"We are a post-conflict country. We have organised and just achieved democratic elections."

Gen Nkunda signed a peace deal in January following fierce fighting last year.

But he has always refused to disarm while Rwandan Hutu rebels still operate in the area, as he accuses them of attacking his Tutsi community.


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