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Demobilise child soldiers, free minors held by military courts, says MONUC

Photo: IRIN
Child soldiers in eastern DRC
KINSHASA, 2 November 2007 (IRIN) - MONUC, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), has called on the army to demobilise all child soldiers in its ranks and hand over any minors held by military tribunals to civilian jurisdiction.

"We believe there are almost 200 minors still present in various FARDC [regular army] brigades currently deployed in North Kivu," MONUC spokesman Kemal Saiki told reporters on 31 October.

"[MONUC] has exhorted Congolese military authorities to release minors in its troops and immediately halt their recruitment," he added.

Two leaders of armed groups based in DRC's Ituri region were in the custody of the International Criminal Court in The Hague charged with, among other war crimes, recruiting children into their ranks.

Eighteen is the minimum legal age for voluntary recruitment into the regular armed forces in DRC, which is signatory to various international conventions prohibiting the use of children in the military.

MONUC has also called for anyone under the age of 18 who has been arrested and tried by military courts in North Kivu to be freed, as has already happened in neighbouring South Kivu province.

Article 114 of the military jurisdiction code stipulates that military courts are not competent to deal with persons aged less than 18 years old.

Saiki said that minors suspected of belonging to armed groups were being detained by military authorities in North Kivu on a daily basis.

In July, the London-based Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers reported that in eastern DRC there were "several thousand" minors within the ranks of the army, armed groups resisting a process of integration into the national army and foreign armed groups.

"The need to build up troop strength, fear of arrest and perceptions of child soldiers as the personal property of military commanders are among the explanations for the continued use of child soldiers," the report stated.

A process of demobilisation of child soldiers was launched in 2002 but has made little progress.
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