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DATE=5/10/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=ASIA-CHILD SOLDIERS NUMBER=5-46286 BYLINE=GARY THOMAS DATELINE=BANGKOK CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: A coalition of social activists is scheduled to meet in Nepal next week to discuss ways to enact a global ban on the use of children as soldiers. The activists say the use of children in armed conflicts is widespread in Asia. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports from Bangkok, they also say it is not just rebel opposition groups that indulge in the practice. TEXT: A report by the Coalition to Stop the Use Of Child Soldiers says there is what it calls "widespread and considerable" use of children as combatants by both governments and opposition groups in Asia. Speaking in Bangkok, coalition spokesman Rory Mungoven said across the region, children under age 18 have been pressed into service - often forcibly - by organized armies and rebel groups alike. /// MUNGOVEN ACT /// Asia ranks close behind Africa in the appalling use of tens of thousands of children who are being used literally as cannon fodder in almost every conflict of the region. /// END ACT /// He says Cambodia, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and especially Burma - also known as Myanmar -are the worst offenders. /// OPT MUNGOVEN ACT /// Burma alone is one of the single largest users of child soldiers in the world. Children in their early teens are serving in the Burmese military, some of them voluntary - attracted by the power and prestige of military service - but many of them forcibly conscripted. Street children, orphans, are particularly vulnerable. Equally, children are involved in many of the ethnic groups pitted against the regime as we have seen in numerous incidents here on the Thai-Burma border. /// END OPT ACT /// Mr. Mungoven says children have also been exploited as soldiers by separatists in Aceh in Indonesia, rebels in Sri Lanka, and by the group currently holding Western hostages in the Philippines. The coalition groups together 10 social justice and human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It is holding its fourth conference on the issue in Katmandu next week. Previous conferences were held in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Mr. Mungoven says the group wants to see a legally enforceable global ban on the use of anyone under 18 as a soldier. /// MUNGOVEN ACT /// Our goal is to put the use of children as soldiers, the use of children as weapons of war, on the same moral and legal footing as land mines, as chemical weapons, as biological weapons, as something that is simply beyond the pale in conflict situations. /// END ACT /// Mr. Mungoven says although there is impetus to enact a ban, there is opposition from industrialized countries, such as Britain and the United States. /// REST OPT /// /// MUNGOVEN ACT /// Interestingly, it has been countries in Asia and Africa, countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, even China, who have been leading the international debate on this issue. , They have been pushing for a higher standard of protection, often in the face of opposition from the more developed countries like the U-S, the U-K, and others, who want to continue to draw under-18s into their armed forces. /// END ACT /// Britain allows 16 year olds to enlist and the United States accepts 17 year olds into the armed forces. But both require parental consent. Mr. Mungoven says the use of children is particularly appealing to military or rebel groups because of their susceptibility to conditioning. /// MUNGOVEN ACT /// But even in industrialized countries, even in countries outside of conflict, there is one common factor in the recruitment of children that is particularly insidious. And that is, as military psychology studies show, it is much easier to condition young people to kill, to condition young people to obey their superiors loyally. And this applies equally in rebel groups and the armed forces of the most modern industrialized states alike. /// END ACT /// Representatives from 15 countries in the region and more than 100 non-governmental organizations are scheduled to attend the Katmandu conference when it opens Wednesday. (signed) NEB/HK/GPT/JO 10-May-2000 06:20 AM EDT (10-May-2000 1020 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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