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DR Congo - Country in crisis

A former child soldier speaks out

© UNICEF DR Congo/2005/ Page
Celestin arrives at a UNICEF-supported Disarmament and Community Reintegration site in Ituri District. He is being reunited with his family and looks forward to returning to school.
BUNIA, DR Congo, 5 April 2005 – Celestin recently entered a UNICEF-supported Disarmament and Community Reintegration site near Bunia, in eastern DR Congo. For two years he was one of the estimated 33,000 children associated with armed groups. Celestin is being reunited with his family and is planning to study to become a doctor.

Here is Celestin’s story in his own words.

“My name is Celestin. I am 14 years old and I am from a village not far away from Bunia, here in Ituri District. My father was shot dead in an attack. That’s why I ran away to fight two years ago.

“For five months we had military training. It was very hard. We got whipped all the time and didn’t have much to eat. We were about 15 boys in our group. There were also five girls. I was trained to be an escort and bodyguard. I know how to shoot an SMG [sub-machine gun] and a G-2 [rifle].

“At the start, they didn’t give us weapons, just wooden batons to practice with. We learned to run, roll and aim with the batons. Every morning started with a long run. If we got tired and slowed down, they would whip us to go faster. We were always tired and hungry.

“Sometimes when we were fighting I was so scared. Once we were advancing on a hill to attack 'les combatants'. One of my friends was shot and fell to the ground. But they kept yelling at us to keep moving forward. They were shouting, ‘Either you kill them or they will kill you, too!’ It always felt good when the fighting was over and I was still alive. Sometimes I felt powerful with the weapon and I could tell adults what to do. They were scared of me.

“Some of the older soldiers smoked drugs, but not me. They would find bits of paper, wrap it and light it. But drugs scared me. Many times we were attacked and we had to fight back.

“I was a soldier for over two years. Then, a little while ago we heard about the disarmament on the radio. My commander told us we could disarm. So we came here, and now I want to stop fighting and go to school. My best friend is over there. He came to disarm with me. We really want to go to school. I want to be a doctor.

“I want to go home and live with my mother and my sisters again.”



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