|© UNICEF video|
|Demobilized child soldiers get off a truck after being released in Burundi.|
By Olalekan Ajia
BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 6 May 2008 – Over 200 demobilized child soldiers were recently released to officials from UNICEF, the United Nations, the African Union and the Government of Burundi. The children were being held by dissidents from the rebel group Palipehutu-FNL, and negotiations for the children’s release became urgent after fighting intensified.
UNICEF Acting Representative in Burundi Françoise Gruloos described how she heard the children jumping and laughing in the buses that were removing them from the camp.
Ms. Gruloos said it was "a wonderful moment, a wonderful feeling, giving back to the children their right to a childhood."
Providing support and supplies
UNICEF, the United Nations in Burundi (BINUB), the African Union and the World Bank had negotiated the agreement with the government and the rebels for eight months.
Between 2004 and 2006, UNICEF supported the government's efforts to demobilize and reintegrate over 3,000 child soldiers. Ms. Keita promised that the reintegration of this set of child soldiers will benefit from lessons learned during that two-year period.
|© UNICEF video|
|Between 2004 and 2006, UNICEF supported the government's efforts to demobilize and reintegrate over 3,000 child soldiers.|
At the Randa camp on 25 April, the President of the Burundian National Assembly, Immaculée Nahayo, thanked the United Nations and UNICEF for supporting the government during the negotiating process.
Reintegration and schooling promised
Executive Secretary Silas Ntigurirwa of the National Commission for Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration, who played a prominent role in the negotiations, promised that the government would help the children return to school or vocational training, as appropriate.
Ms. Gruloos visited the children on 30 April, noting that most know their communities of origin. UNICEF has been providing the children with medical support, clothing and food. The World Food Programme has also promised food supplies.
The Deputy Executive Representative of the United Nations in Burundi, Bintou Keita, also expressed deep satisfaction that the combined efforts and determination of the government, UNICEF and BINUB, and the eventual cooperation of the Palipehutu-FNL, ended with the release of the children.