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Myanmar army frees more child soldiers as part of pact to end practice

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Wed, 7 Aug 2013 10:13 GMT
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In a file photo from 2009, a child wearing a soldier's uniform looks at a convoy carrying diplomats and foreign journalists on a visit to Laukkai, capital of Myanmar's Kokang region. REUTERS/Khin Maung Win/Pool
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BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Myanmar army has discharged 68 children and young people on Wednesday, the United Nations said, exactly a month after it released 42 children and young adults who had been recruited for soldiering and other duties.

Senior officials from the army, representatives of the government, the U.N. and aid agencies were present at the release ceremony, said the statement from UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency.

The impoverished Southeast Asian nation, formerly known as Burma, is one of 22 countries worldwide that the U.N. says are violating international law on the rights of children in armed conflict.

After years of negotiations, Myanmar signed an agreement in June 2012 with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Wednesday’s release is the largest since the accord was signed.

However, rights groups have criticised Myanmar’s government for not moving quickly enough to free them and urged the army – also known as the “Tatmadaw” – and rebel groups to stop recruiting young people.

Shalini Bahuguna, the Yangon-based deputy representative for UNICEF in Myanmar, welcomed the release and called for the discharge to be accelerated.

“Over the past 13 months, the Tatmadaw has discharged 176 children and young people formerly used and recruited as children to jubilant families and friends,” she said in the statement. “The time has come for the mass release of all children from the Myanmar armed forces.”

The latest report by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Myanmar's government had made progress in reducing the recruitment of children to serve as fighters but still needed to stamp out the practice.

It said seven ethnic armed groups – including Karen groups such as the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in the east of the country and the Kachin in the north – also recruit and use child soldiers.

In late July, KNLA signed a commitment to protect children from armed conflict and prevent recruitment of child soldiers, said Geneva Call, a Swiss humanitarian organisation that works to protect civilians affected by conflicts.

While no verifiable data exists on the number of children recruited by the Tatmadaw, human rights group Burma Campaign UK estimates there are 5,000.

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