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Uganda repatriates 36 child fighters

21 November 2013, 21:01

Kampala - Uganda's government on Thursday confirmed it had transferred 36 children forcibly recruited as fighters by Congolese rebel group M23 into UN custody.

The children were among the more than 1,600 M23 fighters who surrendered to Uganda this month after the militia was largely defeated by the Congolese army, with the backing of a UN peacekeeping force.

"The children were handed over a few days ago. They were part of (the) M23 rebels," government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said by telephone.

Lucy Beck, a spokeswoman for UNHCR, the UN agency for refugees, confirmed the transfer.

"The children were handed to UNCHR as a special category of unaccompanied children refugees. They were among the rebels who fled to Uganda," she said, but declined to give further details.

Recruiting child soldiers is recognized as a serious war crime by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Rights groups have accused M23 since the start of its uprising in early 2012 of using children as soldiers.

The rebel uprising displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The M23's top military commander, Sultan Makenga, is among the fighters who fled to Uganda. He is also being held by the army.

The rebel group was backed by Rwanda and, to a lesser extent, Uganda, according to a UN panel of experts.



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