Wed, Dec 16, 2015 - Page 6 News List

S Sudanese rivals using children as ‘cannon fodder’

Thomson Reuters Foundation, NAIROBI

More than a dozen senior commanders and officials who children say recruited them as soldiers in South Sudan should be investigated, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The UN says 16,000 children have joined armed groups since South Sudan’s civil war erupted two years ago.

“It’s the brutal recruitment that is the most heart wrenching,” Skye Wheeler, the report’s author, told reporters. “Forces come through their village and grab them and force them into fighting. It’s an absolute negation of their basic rights as children, but also as people, not to be treated just as cannon fodder.”

South Sudan was plunged into a civil war in December 2013 when a political crisis triggered fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels allied with former vice president Riek Machar. The conflict has reopened ethnic faultlines that pit Kiir’s Dinka people against Machar’s ethnic Nuer people.

A peace deal was signed in August, but the two sides have repeatedly accused each other of violations.

A third of 74 boys interviewed who fought in the current conflict said they were forcibly recruited, often at gunpoint.

Many said they were detained until they agreed to fight or simply abducted, handed a gun and sent into battle.

“I had no experience of holding a gun before,” said one boy in the report, who said he was abducted from school by opposition forces. “They told us this is how you use it... Then we began fighting.”

About half of the boys interviewed said they willingly joined armed groups to protect themselves and their communities. About half also said they fought or worked for government forces or their allies.

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