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UNICEF airlifts over 2,500 demobilized child soldiers out of Sudan combat zone

Recent press releases and statements on child soldiers

October Meeting With Carol Bellamy Results in Mass Release by SPLA

Read the text of Carol Bellamy's remarks

© UNICEF/HQ01-0088/Stevie Mann
Photo: Former child soldiers in southern Sudan link hands as they enter a plane that will transport them from the conflict zone in Northern Bahr el Ghazal province to nearby centres providing care and eventual reunification with families. Beginning 23 February, UNICEF airlifted more than 2,500 former child soldiers, aged 8 to 18.

Tuesday, 27 February 2001: In the largest effort of its kind ever undertaken in southern Sudan, the United Nations Children's Fund announced today that it had airlifted more than 2,500 child combatants out of conflict zones and into safe areas where a rehabilitation and family tracing process can begin.

In an evacuation operation that began Friday and continued through the weekend, UNICEF said it moved more than 2,500 former child soldiers from the combat zone of Bahr el Gazal using two humanitarian relief planes operated by the World Food Program. The children were taken to reception centres in the Lakes area, behind the front lines, where local and international NGOs greeted them with medical check-ups and other basic care.

A single aircraft was continuing the operation through Tuesday. Children are also being moved from some garrisons by road.

The children - ranging in age from 8 to 18 - were demobilized from military camps run by the rebel Sudan Peoples' Liberation Army under a personal commitment made by an SPLA commander to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy in October 2000. Ms. Bellamy was in southern Sudan at that time to observe polio immunization activities.

"We knew the critical moment had arrived," said Dr. Sharad Sapra, the head of UNICEF's operations in southern Sudan. "This is the dry season, and that's when fighting usually erupts," he said. "The SPLA should be given credit for following through on the pledge it gave to Carol Bellamy."

UNICEF said the children will live in transit centres for the next four to nine months while a family tracing process takes place. The centres are being run by local and international NGOs with experience in child protection. During this time the young people will be provided with education, psychosocial counselling, and vocational training. UNICEF has arranged for water points to be built at the sites and the World Food Programme has brought in food.

UNICEF said the children evacuated in the airlift fall into two general categories: those who received military training but never saw combat, and those who lived through combat and other traumatic experiences. UNICEF said the former group could be expected to be reunified with family and communities in three to four months. The latter group will require more time, perhaps as long as nine months, and will be given more formal vocational training. UNICEF said children for whom no family members can be traced will remain under the long term care of local authorities and non-governmental organizations - supported by UNICEF - as close as possible to their communities of origin.

Dr. Sapra acknowledged that a long process was only just beginning. "Our first priority was to get these children to a place of safety, out of harm's way," he said. "Now our goal is to give them an education and some time to recover."

"Our ultimate goal, of course, is to completely and totally end the use of children as combatants in southern Sudan," Dr. Sapra added. "There are an estimated 9,000 child soldiers in various armed groups here, so we have a way to go. But this operation has shown what can be done with strong advocacy and follow-through. We are more inspired than ever to convince military leaders in this conflict that children have no place in armies."

* * *

For further information, please contact:
Martin Dawes, UNICEF Media, OLS-Nairobi (2542) 622-410, (254-733) 609-869
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261


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UNICEF hails new treaty banning child soldiers Tues. 12 Feb. 2002


Ex-child soldier addresses Security Council Tues., 20 Nov
UN leaders hail new step banning children as soldiers Tues.20 Nov
Five months later, child soldiers go home to Sudan, Wed., 29 August
Ex-child soldiers begin new lives in Rwanda Mon, 20 August
Sri Lankan children still recruited for wars Friday, 20 July
Sierra Leone releases 150 more child soldiers Monday, 4 June
Côte d'Ivoire intercepts child soldiers from Burkina Faso June
In Angola children released, but worry persists Sat, 26 May
Hundreds of child soldiers freed in Sierra Leone
Friday, 25 May 20
In Angola, a call for release of 60 abducted children Tues., 8 May
UNICEF renews aid for children in Sierra Leone Thurs , 19 April
Carol Bellamy on the airlift of child soldiers in Sudan Tues, 27 Feb
2,500 demobilized child soldiers out of Sudan
Tuesday, 27 Feb
UNICEF finds 163 Congolese child soldiers in Uganda
Tuesday, 20 Feb
UNICEF assesses Congolese child soldiers in Uganda Wed, 14 Feb
UNICEF applauds agreement with Uganda on child soldiers Fri, 9 Feb
Children in armed conflict to the Panel on Optional Protocol Wed., 31 Jan
Security council debates issue of children in war
Wed, 26 July
Angola: Call for immediate release of 21 abducted children Fri, 14 July


Sudan rebels give UNICEF a guarantee on child soldiers, Oct 24
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Wed, 13 Sept
Graça Michel calls for an end to impunity against war crimes Wed., 13 Sept
UNICEF hails new Security Council decision on children and war Fri, 11 Aug
Bellamy to Security Council on protection of children in conflict Wed, 26 July
Hague Appeal for Peace: Children as catalysts for peace Wed., 12 May


To the Humanitarian Issues Working Group: the catastrophe in Kosovo Tues. 6 Apr
To the Security Council: A peace and security agenda for children Fri., 12 Feb