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UNICEF welcomes release of child soldiers and urges further demobilizations in Central African Republic

BANGUI, 7 July 2009 – UNICEF today confirmed the demobilization of 182 children who have been released by the rebel group People’s Army for the Restoration of Democracy (APRD) since April 2009, in Central African Republic’s northern Ouham Pendé province.

Many of the 166 boys and 16 girls, aged 10–17, served in the APRD since its formation in 2006. Almost all have been reunited with their families after receiving assistance to transition back into civilian life.

“We are extremely pleased that APRD leaders are following through with their commitment to surrender the children in their ranks,” says Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Bangui, who has been working closely with the Government of Central African Republic (CAR) to plan and coordinate the release of the children.

The Government first discussed the release of child soldiers with APRD following their signature of the 2008 Libreville Peace Agreement and a visit to CAR the same year by UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy.

The recent rounds of demobilization follow the initial release of a group of children that got underway in June 2007 when UNICEF and the Government signed a child soldier reintegration agreement with the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity, UFDR, a rebel group operating in north-eastern CAR. 

UNICEF helped build two transit centres in Paoua and Bocaranga that are managed by the Danish Refugee Council and the International Rescue Committee, respectively. As a first step, each child receives a ‘demobilization kit’ consisting of civilian clothes, sleeping mats, blankets and personal hygiene items. They get medical check-ups, counseling, briefings on HIV and AIDS, human rights and child rights, and receive basic literacy and math classes.

Back home in their communities, UNICEF is offering catch-up classes for the children still of school age to facilitate their reintegration into the formal school system. Those too old to return to school can attend a range of training programmes, including animal husbandry, agricultural skills, tailoring and carpentry.

UNICEF works with a range of UN agencies, including the World Food Programme and NGOs such as the Danish Refugee Council; the International Rescue Committee; the International Medical Corps; the Comité d’aide médicale; and other partners to implement the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of children.

The DDR programme for child soldiers in CAR is funded by the UNDP Peace Building Fund; the Government of Spain; the UNICEF National Committees of the United Kingdom and France; the Canadian International Development Agency; the Government of the Netherlands; and other donors.

While UNICEF lauds this positive development it remains concerned about renewed fighting and the emergence of new armed groups along CAR borders with Chad and Sudan as well as local self-defense militias throughout the country. The increase in violence is heightening the risk of human rights violations and recruitment, or re-recruitment, of child soldiers.

“Reintegration is a long and often difficult process in any circumstance,” says Mr. Mdoe, “and the prevailing climate of insecurity adds to the challenges”. He points out that the children are returning to poor communities with limited access to basic services and few options for the future. “We need to keep up our assistance to these communities if we want the demobilization programme to succeed.”

UNICEF CAR needs an additional $1 million to ensure continuity of the demobilization of child soldiers and their reintegration into their communities.

UNICEF is grateful for the ongoing support of the Government. “We are determined to continue our joint demobilization efforts,” said Mr. Mdoe adding that UNICEF calls on all armed groups and forces to immediately release those still enlisted, and to end all further recruitment of children.

UNICEF calls on the Government to sign an action plan with APRD to prevent recruitment and to release all children associated with their forces.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information, please contact:
Brigitte Stark-Merklein, UNICEF Central African Republic
Tel + 236 75 58 96 01;
E-mail: bstarkmerklein@unicef.org

Gaelle Bausson, UNICEF Regional Office for West and Central Africa
Tel + 221 869 7642;
E-mail: gbausson@unicef.org

Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York
Tel + 1 212 326 7426;
E-mail: pmccormick@unicef.org




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