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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

BURKINA FASO: UN envoy fears children could get involved in conflict

OUAGADOUOGOU, 29 January 2003 (IRIN) - The UN Under Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict has expressed fears that, like in the Liberian and the Sierra Leonean civil wars, children from countries neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire could get involved in the conflict in that country.

Olara Otunnu told reporters in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou, on Tuesday that there were unverified reports that attempts had been made to mobilise youths to get involved in the Ivorian conflict. "This is unacceptable, this is not the place for the future of the African youth. It must rather be in its community, at school and among its family. Not on battlefields," Otunnu said.

Otunnu met Burkina Faso's president, Blaise Compaore, to appeal for support to keep children away from the conflict. "President Compaore's support to the peace process in Cote d'Ivoire is essential and his show of restraint in the events there is very important. He can use his influence to prevent the enrolment of children by passing on the message to the different actors of the conflict," Otunnu added.

According to the UN envoy, at least 10,000 children were involved in Sierra Leone's 10-year civil war that ended in January 2002. The war, one of West Africa's most brutal conflicts, led to thousands of children being raped and separated from their families.

Otunnu was due to leave Burkina Faso on Wednesday for Dakar, Senegal, before traveling to Freetown, Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile the UN reported on Monday that Otunnu had been invited to address the 26th ordinary summit of the heads of state and government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Dakar on 31 January, on the issue of the protection of children affected by armed conflict in West Africa.

"Children and youth in the subregion have been particularly victimized during the civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and, more recently, Côte d'Ivoire. They have been abducted and forcibly conscripted by armed groups and have suffered from displacement and deprivation of education and basic health care, and from sexual exploitation and abuse. They have also been used as forced labour in the extraction of natural resources," the UN said.

In his address, Otunnu would highlight the situation of war-affected children in the subregion, assess progress made in their protection, and propose concrete actions for further integrating the issue at the subregional and national levels, the UN said.



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