condemned, reports Wachira Kigotho
UGANDA and Rwanda are recruiting children as young as 10 to fight in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a United Nations' report.
"Child soldiers are used to lay anti-tank and anti-personnel mines," says the report which was released to the UN general assembly by Robert Garreton, the independent UN human rights investigator.
"Others are used to spy behind the enemy lines by the armies of the countries fighting in DR Congo [formerly Zaire]," says the investigator.
Uganda and Rwanda have large contingents fighting in the Congo, helping rebels in the eastern part of the country in their bid to oust president Laurent Kabila from power.
However, instead of promoting respect for the rights of
children and establishing schools, the armies are recruiting them to fight alongside regular troops and to police rebel-held territory.
The hard-hitting report says that conflict in the Great Lakes region has created one of the
largest concentrations of child
soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The child soldiers, known as "kadogos" in Kiswahili, are recruited mainly from the streets of urban areas in east African countries.
In Kenya, streetchildren in Naiobi are lured to the Congo with promises of lucrative jobs and a better life. However, rebel sources say it is no secret that the boys would become soldiers.
Refugee sources in Nairobi said that rebel agents were paying pound;350 for every batch of 150 boys. The children are then smuggled out of the country dressed in school uniforms or as Boy Scouts to rebel headquarters in the town of Goma, on DR Congo's border with Rwanda.
Robert Garreton also accused the Ugandan and Rwandan troops of involving child soldiers in the slaughter and displacement of civilians.
The report condemns the recent battles between Rwandan and Ugandan troops early this year in Kisangani, in north-east DR Congo, where hundreds of civilians were killed. "Child militias were increasingly used in the frontline," the report says.
"Specifically we would like national and rebel troops using child soldiers to stop using children in armed conflict." So far, eight national armies and numerous armed groups are involved in the war.
"By any standards, this conflict could rightly be called the first world war in Africa," the report adds.
The conflict's key features are the heavy use of child soldiers, massacre of civilians, and the persecution of human rights groups. Women and children have suffered terrible violence.