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PRESS CONFERENCE BY SECRETARY-GENERAL'S SPECIAL REPRESENTATIVE FOR CHILDREN AND ARMED CONFLICT ON RECENT VISIT TO CHAD, CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

2 June 2008

The Government of Chad had committed to releasing all detained children associated with armed groups in the country, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said today.

At a Headquarters press conference on her recent six-day visit to Chad and the Central African Republic, Ms. Coomaraswamy said that, in order to verify there were no children in the armed forces, the Government had also agreed to let United Nations agencies visit its army camps and training centres. In addition, it had agreed to set up a task force involving all ministries which would work on the children’s reintegration. While the Government would be announcing those commitments today, there had been no commitments from the non-State actors operating in the country.

She said the aim of the visit to Chad had been to meet with Government officials and United Nations agencies, especially after an agreement reached between the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Government to release children associated with the armed forces. There was a now a problem with regard to what would happen after the children were released. For those from the Sudan, reintegration into their families could become a challenge because of nationality issues, and United Nations agencies were working with the Governments of both Chad and the Sudan to get them to reach agreement on that issue.

Turning to the Central African Republic, she said her visit had been aimed at establishing a monitoring and reporting mechanism under Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) since that country featured, for the first time, in the Secretary-General’s annual report to the Council and on the agenda of the Council’s working group. The mission had been to inform the Government that it would be on the working group’s agenda and that a report on the situation of children in the country would be prepared by the United Nations country team and protection partners, to be presented before the working group by the end of the year.

She said the mission had also held dialogues with non-State actors, the highlight of which had been a meeting with Commandant Laurent Djim Wei of the Popular Army for the Restoration of Democracy. He had agreed to provide a list of all children associated with his group and to release them once the United Nations presented an action plan for their integration and ensured their protection and effective reintegration. That was expected to happen in the near future. The mission had also met with Zacharia Damane of the Union of Democratic Forces for Unity in the north-east, who had agreed to the reintegration of children.

Ms. Coomaraswamy said that a major resource problem was that children were being released but their effective reintegration was becoming an issue as there were not enough resources for UNICEF and other United Nations agencies, such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), to carry out that task effectively. The country team and the Office of the Special Representative planned to begin raising the needed resources.

During the visit to the Central African Republic, the mission had met with internally displaced persons in the north-west, especially children, she said, noting that they did not live in camps but in the bush where there were neither schools nor health facilities. UNICEF had begun setting up makeshift schools. In separate discussions, women had related stories of sexual violence in the bush, recruitment of children and re-recruitment by non-State actors if they ran away.

Meetings had also been held with nomadic communities that had been the victims of armed bandits who often broke away from armed groups, she said. They told stories of child abductions for ransom. From those meetings with women and children, the mission had discovered their great struggle to meet basic security and protect themselves against impunity. In the south-east, the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) had attacked a village and abducted more than 100 people, including children. The lack of security in that region posed a great problem to the Government and all those in authority. Another problem was the porous borders and cross-border movement of children and families between the Sudan, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

There was, however, hope for peace in the country, she said. It was anticipated that, by the end of June, there would be a major agreement among all the armed actors. The United Nations had been pushing all sides in that accord to include a provision on the protection of children, as was now customary in most peace agreements. It was hoped that, with the conclusion of that agreement, security-sector reforms and other such developments, the situation of children would improve.

In response to a question, Ms. Coomaraswamy said children were increasingly being used by armed groups around the world and her Office wished to look at the root causes of their recruitment in different conflicts.

Responding to another question, she said it was important that humanitarian relief organizations understand that their work involving children must be done with the consent and consultation of the children and families involved.

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For information media • not an official record



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