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Feature – Biros, not massacres, ex-Central African child soldiers


BAMBARI, Central African Republic, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Josephine was overwhelmed when two of her uncles were killed by armed cattle thieves on the southern border of the Central African Republic on the eve of her 12th birthday. All I can think about is revenge.

The schoolgirl was an easy target for recruitment by mainly Christian militias fighting fighters from the Muslim Peul tribe on the plains of the eastern Waka region.

“Peuls killed my uncle, and I’m ready for revenge,” Josephine, 14, said as she sat in the shade of a mango tree on the school playground, wearing a bright yellow dress.

“Our job as children was to behead the bodies of dead enemy soldiers,” she said, her face expressionless and devoid of emotion.

Since the Muslim-majority Séléka rebels briefly took power in 2013, rival militias have recruited as many as 10,000 children under the age of 18, who have been enslaved and used as fighters and human shields, according to the UN children’s agency UNICEF. It unleashed a wave of violence and revenge killings.

It was during a shootout in the lawless, mineral-rich floodplains in 2013 that Josephine was recruited by the so-called anti-balaka, a mostly Christian militia that sought to bolster its ranks by recruiting children , these children could easily mobilize against Peuls.

At the height of the conflict in 2013, her brigade had 111 soldiers, including 42 children, during which rival militias used bloodthirsty tactics, ransacked villages and stole livestock, Josephine As he spoke, he fiddled with a ballpoint pen with his fingers.

“Peuls killed my uncle and his brother without hesitation, so it was the same for me. I got it out of my system,” Josephine said. Her name has been changed for her safety.


The red earth bushes of Waka are about 200 kilometers from the capital Bangui, where Pope Francis was due to arrive on Sunday to seek to bridge the divide between Christians and Muslims.

His visit comes as the city remains tense due to renewed fighting in September. In Ouaka, anti-balaka groups have regularly engaged in deadly skirmishes with Peul ethnic fighters of the Union for Peace in Central Africa (UPC), a Muslim separatist group that controls the Seleka alliance in northeastern CAR.

Nearly three years of interfaith conflict in the Central African Republic has been marked by appalling brutality and abuse on both sides.

Many former child soldiers have told UNICEF that they were forced to deliver pregnant women by C-section and kill their own parents as a form of joining armed groups.

But UNICEF said the proportion of children under 18 among the rebels had fallen sharply, spurred by the signing in May of an internationally-backed agreement in Bangui under which armed factions agreed to demobilize all child soldiers as part of China’s The non-republic is now due to transition to elections on 27 December.

More than 5,000 children have been released from armed groups since early 2014, the UN agency said.

Josephine, who spent two years with the anti-balaka group, is one of 1,300 children, 213 of whom are girls, to be released this year as part of a UNICEF program that gave her a choice – to go back to school or start a business.

“I turned my back on armed groups and decided that school was the way forward,” said Josephine, suddenly distracted by the cheers of children rushing out of classrooms in the afternoon heat.

Numbers game

In Bambari, Waqa’s main town, where a river separates Muslim and Christian communities, former child soldiers have started businesses under the auspices of a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called Nda.

“I used to carry weapons,” said bald Mahmoud, 16, a former UPC member whose real name has been changed.

He worked for two years with UPC, whose leaders also forced him to do menial tasks such as cooking and cleaning equipment.

“I used to think that being a soldier was the way forward, but now I want to make clothes for the money,” Mahmoud said. The main market in town.

A $300 grant from UNICEF instalments allowed him to purchase textiles and a sewing machine, which he used to sew clothes, making him one of the more successful former fighters to participate in the rehabilitation program.

Others may be reluctant to leave armed groups for fear that their role in the conflict could be stigmatized in their home communities, said Benoit Daundo, head of UNICEF’s child protection program in Bambari. Named.

Dawindo said he was concerned that the surge in fighting in the Central African Republic two months ago had created fertile conditions for children to rejoin the rebels.

The violence delayed internationally-backed elections until the end of the year, but both UPC and the anti-balaka said they were following a U.N.-backed process to release children from their ranks.

“We have released all the children associated with our group. They are no longer part of the UPC,” UPC leader Ali Daras told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in Bambari, near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo .

The white-shirted Dallas and his young army-clad fighters, many of whom are Pele, control Bambari, a key gateway to nearly untapped diamond and gold mines that analysts say will one day see the Central African Republic May become an export powerhouse.

Despite assurances from Dallas and anti-balaka commanders that those remaining in their ranks are over 18, the UN mission MINUSCA, whose 10,800 uniformed peacekeepers patrol towns and cities across the country, is not convinced.

“Despite some notable successes, armed groups have not spared all their children,” said Diane Corner, the deputy special representative of the UN Secretary-General in Bangui.

Despite the progress, some children remain out of reach because of ongoing heavy fighting and the reluctance of armed groups to comply with MINUSCA’s disarmament plan, UN officials said.

UNICEF Deputy Country Representative Speciose Hakizimana said hundreds of children were still associated with armed groups in Lobaye province west of Bangui and in the town of Bossangoa, near the town of Batangafo and in the northern Markounda district .

“We know very little about the situation in the east,” she added.

UNICEF says the crisis in Central African Republic is one of the most underfunded crises it has responded to in the world, and it has received only half of the $71 million budget it needs for 2015. (Reporting by Tom Esslemont, editing by Ros Russell; please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, Thomson Reuters’ charitable arm covering humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. See


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