Sudan said on Thursday that 80 children, some as young as 11 and press-ganged into a Darfur rebel group, had been arrested in a security crackdown after an unprecedented attack on Khartoum.
Hassabo Mohamed Abdelrahman, commissioner general of the government Humanitarian Aid Commission, said children aged 11 to 17, were detained in the capital’s twin city of Omdurman wearing uniforms and carrying guns.
“Up to now, the number that we have is 80 but we suspect there may be more,” Abdelrahman told a news conference nearly a week after Darfur rebels carried out an attack on Omdurman that left more than 220 people dead.
He said most of them are Sudanese and accused the Justice and Equality Movement of abducting them from pastoral and refugee areas in the vast western region of Darfur.
The minors are being held separately in a social rehabilitation center, where all their needs will be looked after, Abdelrahman said.
There was no independent confirmation of the numbers arrested.
“We want the international community to put pressure on the rebel groups to release the child soldiers” Amira el-Fadil, secretary general of the national council for child welfare, said after the news conference.
The UN children’s fund and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said they had not yet seen the minors but confirmed that the government had consulted them on how they should be treated.
“We have no confirmation of numbers, but we were aware that children were probably involved,” UNICEF spokesman Edward Carwardine said.
“We are welcoming the fact that those minors are going to be taken care of ... and we are happy to help as an advisory body on issues related to their detention,” ICRC spokesman Saleh Dabbakih said.
Meanwhile, the UN said on Thursday it had evacuated 250 civilian staff from the oil-rich region of Abyei following three days of clashes between the Sudanese army and former southern rebels.
Abyei lies just north of the disputed boundary line between north and south Sudan, which fought a civil war for more than two decades ending in a 2005 peace agreement. It is a volatile region that remains contested between northerners and southerners following the peace.
The clashes began on Tuesday between forces of the Sudanese army and the semi-autonomous south’s Sudan People’s Liberation Army.
Khaled Mansour, a spokesman for the UN Mission in Sudan, said there was concern for the safety of civilians and overcrowding in the mission’s compound in the town where people sought refuge from the clashes.
“We believe that their [staff] safety and security was threatened,” he said from Khartoum, adding that some 400 UN peacekeepers remained in Abyei.