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UN Special Representative commends demobilization of child soldiers in Burundi

© UNICEF Burundi/2007/Yves
‘Les Tambourinaires’, a children’s drumming and dancing troupe at the Kabondo Centre for vulnerable children in Burundi, perform for UN Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy.

By Olalekan Ajia

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 27 March, 2007 – The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has commended Burundi for its demobilization of child soldiers, and UNICEF is part of the success story.

“Most of the minors detained on charges related to their involvement with armed groups seem to have been released, but efforts still need to be made to improve the conditions under which minors are detained,” Ms. Coomaraswamy said at a press conference following her three-day visit to the country.

The Special Representative, who met with President Pierre Nkurunziza and key ministers, said the government has promised to ensure that children who are in detention are separated from adults. She also insisted that sustainable support be provided for children reintegrating into their communities, to prevent them from returning to a life of crime and violence.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said if Burundi consolidates the progress made so far, it could well be the first country under Security Council Resolution 1612 – the UN monitoring mechanism on the use of child soldiers – to be taken off the list of countries committing grave violations of children’s rights.

Education, training and support

UNICEF Burundi Assistant Representative Cherif Benadouda added that UNICEF had supported the government’s National Structure on Child Soldiers to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate 3,028 children associated with armed groups between 2004 and 2006. The children were reintegrated into their own or adoptive communities, he said.

Among those 3,028, some 600 returned to school, 2,300 received vocational training of their choice and all received back-up support through their families for 18 months after demobilization.

UNICEF and its partners are now supporting government efforts to demobilize 26 children from Burundi’s last rebel movement, the Palipehutu-FNL. However, Mr. Benadouda agreed with Ms. Coomaraswamy that additional funding from the international community would be needed to empower these young people as pillars of peace consolidation.

© UNICEF Burundi/2007/Yves
UN Special Representative Radhika Coomaraswamy speaks with a teenage mother and victim of sexual violence in Burundi.

Meetings with affected children

While she was here in the country’s capital, Ms. Coomaraswamy also met with the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the Integrated Office of the United Nations in Burundi, Youssef Mahmoud, as well as the UN country team and national and international partners.

During a visit to the Kabondo Centre of the Fondation Stamm – a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that houses some 120 orphans, street children and former child soldiers – Ms. Coomaraswamy was welcomed with an unforgetable performance by ‘les Tambourinaires’, a children’s drumming and dancing troupe.

She also spoke privately with two of the children, a boy who was with the Palipehutu-FNL and a girl who was a victim of sexual violence by armed men.

Trip to demobilization centre

One of the highlights of the Special Representative’s stay was her trip to the Gitega Demobilization Centre with UNICEF Representative in Burundi Bintou Keita and Brigadier-General Silas Ntirwurirwa, Executive Secretary of the National Structure on Disarmament, Demobilization, Reinsertion and Reintegration.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said she was pleasantly surprised that the 26 children from the Palipehutu-FNL who were in the camp had been freed to join their families but pointed out that they still needed rehabilitation. She also urged the government to release 22 children who are still detained in Mpimba Prison.

Ms. Keita praised the Government of Burundi for setting a good example for other countries in the Great Lakes region and called for proper documentation, monitoring and evaluation of its demobilization and reintegration project.



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