Sunday, April 10, 2011

600 Child Soldiers in Philippine Rebel Ranks

UN confirms presence of minors in Muslim separatist group on Mindanao island
The United Nations yesterday said it has confirmed the presence of some 600 child soldiers in the ranks of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the largest Muslim separatist rebel group in the southern Philippines. The UN special representative for children and armed conflict told a media briefing that the agency believes the total number is likely to be in the 'low thousands'. UN workers, aided by a local Muslim institute, have been visiting MILF camps in the conflict-hit areas on the main southern island of Mindanao since last August checking for the presence of minors, under an agreement with the rebels to have them returned to civilian life.

The Philippines is on a UN Security Council watchlist of 22 countries where armed groups, and in some cases governments, use children in armed conflicts. Among them are Afghanistan, India, Israel, Myanmar, Thailand and Yemen. Under Islam, the age of maturity is 13 for girls and 14 for boys. Of the 600 minors identified, most were in the 15 to 17 age group, and 73 per cent were boys.. The MILF - estimated to have a force of 15,000 armed regulars - occupies eight so-called 'base commands' in Mindanao. These are not camps in the strict sense, but strongholds.

The rebels are currently in peace talks with the government to end a long-running separatist insurgency in which at least 120,000 people have been killed. A similar programme is being initiated with the Communist rebels who have been waging a Maoist-inspired insurgency in the country's hinterlands for 42 years. Singapore Straits Times

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