To mark Universal Children's Day, an agreement was reached in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR) (November 20) to release child soldiers held by the CPJP (Convention des patriotes pour la justice et la paix). However, reaching a similar accord with the main rebel group, the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army), remains elusive.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Special Representative (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, who witnessed the signing of the accord said "there is a momentum gathering in the Central African Republic for the release of children from armed groups. Today's signing follows the recent signature of an action plan by the Armée populaire pour la restauration de la République et la Démocratie (APRD), another rebel group in the country, reaffirming their commitment that their ranks are free of children".
The Special Representative traveled to Bangui with the intention of targeting the LRA who since 1987, in its fight against the Ugandan Government, has abducted children to be used as soldiers and sex slaves. The children are considered as cheap, mobile and replaceable sources of labor that are easy to train, control and brainwash.
While the future of negotiations with the LRA remains unknown, the agreement signed by the CPJP and its President, Abdoulaye Hissene and Margaret Vogt, of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in CAR consists of identifying and separating child soldiers from the ranks of the rebels and eventually reintegrating them back into their communities.
An estimated 66,000 child soldiers have been abducted by the LRA, and its two main leaders, Joseph Kony and Dominic Ongwen, are under international warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity.
Coomaraswamy also announced that the CAR National Assembly would ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of Child by the end of the year.
(Photo © SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict)