South Sudan militia frees first group of child soldiers – UN
A South Sudanese militia has freed 280 child soldiers as part of a wider deal to release about 3,000 underage fighters, the UN’s children agency Unicef has said.
More releases will occur in the coming weeks, said the agency, which helped negotiate the children’s freedom.
The soldiers were recruited into an armed group which has now made peace with the government.
Other rebel militias have been locked in a civil war since 2013.
Fighting began after President Salva Kiir accused his deputy of trying to foment a coup, triggering a descent into nationwide violence and forcing about 1.5 million people from their homes.
According to Unicef, around 12,000 children have been forcibly recruited by armed groups in South Sudan over the past year.
Child soldier case study: Silva, 11 years old:
I have been fighting for more than two years. I haven’t seen my mother and father since last summer.
I’ve seen many people killed when I was on missions.
I had an AK-47. It was heavy. I was fighting to protect my family and village.
Now I want to go to school and learn. I don’t want to fight anymore, I was scared.
Swapping guns for books
The 3,000 young fighters due to be released were members of a militia called the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction.
The group, which had been fighting to win greater rights for the Murle ethnic group, did not join the wider rebellion that erupted in December 2013.
Led by David Yau Yau, it was often involved in cattle raids and deadly revenge attacks and had been fighting for almost four years in Pibor county in Jonglei state.
“These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience,” said Unicef’s South Sudan representative, Jonathan Veitch.
Unicef said it was trying to reunite the demobilised child soldiers with their families.