Sun, Nov 25, 2007 - Page 5 News List

UN tells Myanmar to release child soldiers


Myanmar should release all its child soldiers and allow UN officials to verify government claims that officers have been punished for recruiting minors into the army, the UN chief said.

There are credible reports that Myanmar's army continues to recruit children under 18 despite an official prohibition of the practice, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his report on Friday to the UN Security Council.

Recruiters often lure poor children with promises of shelter and food, while others are picked up for not having identification cards and threatened with arrest unless they join the army, Ban said. Army commanders sometimes pay "brokers" US$30 and a bag of rice for each recruit.

The army is "reportedly under enormous pressure" to increase recruitment rates, and money and rice are offered as incentives to keep up the pace, Ban said.

He said that, according to reports, "if a soldier wants to leave the army ... he must recruit as many as four replacements."

The UN has also received credible reports that a number of children have been arrested for desertion and sentenced to prison for up to five years, Ban said.

The report covered the period between July 2005 and this September. Both Myanmar's government and ethnic guerrilla groups have long been accused of using child soldiers, and both sides have acknowledged the allegations as the UN has highlighted the issue.

Responding to a report last month by New York-based Human Rights Watch, Myanmar's government said it had strengthened regulations forbidding the recruitment of minors since establishing a committee to oversee the problem in 2004.

The military dismissed some 141 minors and returned them to their parents between 2004 and this August, said Ye Htut, deputy director general of Myanmar's Information Ministry. Disciplinary action was taken against nearly 30 military personnel for violating recruitment rules, he said.

Ban acknowledged that "the government has shown increasing interest in addressing underage recruitment and has engaged the United Nations on the issue."

He said the UN has received periodic updates since 2005 from Myanmar's Committee for the Prevention of Recruiting Underaged Children from Military Recruitment.

But he said the UN has been largely unable to verify government claims that those responsible for underage recruitment have been disciplined or that any children have been released. The UN team has not been given access to any minors the government claims to have freed, he said.

The report called for "transparent and accountable disciplinary procedures for all persons, military or civilian, who violate recruitment rules and regulations."

Ban also criticized the government for denying UN official access to areas where groups of guerrillas operate, leaving the world body's investigators unable to verify the most recent reports of children in their ranks.

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