Central African Government, rebels sign UN deal on reintegrating child soldiers

18 June 2007 – The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Central African Republic (CAR) and the country’s major rebel group have signed an agreement that will allow some child soldiers in the northeast – the scene of fierce fighting in recent months – to return to their families and become reintegrated with their former communities.

In an accord signed with UNICEF in the Central African town of Gordil on Saturday, the Government and the rebel Assembly of the Union of Democratic Forces (UFDR) agreed to allow the child soldiers in the local area to demobilize.

UFDR has already agreed to release some 400 children from its ranks in the Vakaga region, while under the deal UNICEF will also help prevent the future recruitment of children into armed groups.

Although the CAR is not one of the countries that endorsed the so-called Paris Principles in February, which call upon States to reintegrate all children enrolled in armed groups, UNICEF said the agreement indicated that the nation’s warring parties were making their own voluntary steps towards respecting children’s rights.

“This important process will allow the restoration of children’s rights in Gordil,” said UNICEF representative Mahimbo Mdoe. “The demobilized will now be able to go to school and to take advantage of health-care facilities. UNICEF hopes to use Gordil as an example to renew such initiatives in other regions and do so on a larger scale.”

The programme is set up to work at the community level, with UNICEF offering support to those communities accepting former child soldiers and also helping to re-establish social services after years of war or misrule.

The deal comes as a UN team led by François Dureau, Director of the Situation Centre in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), conducts a three-day of the CAR and neighbouring Chad to help assess whether a mission of blue helmets should be established in the troubled countries.

The 12-member team is expected to hold talks with authorities in both Chad and the CAR and with local representatives of the international community during the visit, which starts today.

Meanwhile, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman voiced deep concern over the spate of deadly attacks in the past week against aid workers around the world, from Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territory to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the CAR.

The attacks and threats “have a double impact,” Ms. Veneman said in a statement issued on Saturday. “People whose only motive is to help others are being killed and wounded. And, as a result, aid that is essential to the survival of millions of civilians, many of them women and children, is often scaled back in the wake of the attack.”

She called for every effort to be made to ensure that relief workers can carry out their activities as safely as possible.

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