Child warriors appall UN

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE United Nations and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front will start next year their talks on an action plan to stop the recruitment of children as soldiers.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, special representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, revealed this yesterday during a press conference in Ortigas, Pasig City.

“The primary purpose of this five-day visit, requested by the Security Council, was to discuss ways and means of securing the release of children being recruited by the MILF and New People’s Army,” Coomaraswamy said.

She said these armed groups MILF, NPA and the Abu Sayaff Group are listed by the Secretary General as recruiting and using children.

However, the UN representative welcomed the decision of the MILF to comply with the Security Council recommendations to free up the children among their ranks.

“Possible dialogue with NPA is under consideration in the context of ongoing peace process,” she stressed.

In her five day visit, Coomaraswamy met with the Philippine government and raised concerns regar-ding alleged involvement of children in the parami-litary Citizens Armed Force Geographical Units and Community Volunteer Organizations operating in some conflict areas.

The government, through the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, agreed to immediately issue a directive that all local units must strictly adhere to existing national legislation that no one under 18 shall be recruited or used.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary General also urged the government to take all the necessary measures to investigate and take firm action against those within the Philippines Security Forces allegedly responsible for grave violations against children.

Coomaraswamy said the talks with the MILF will start by next year but admitted that they have yet to find ways to engage the NPA and ASG for a similar task of freeing the children among their ranks.

But she expressed hope that in the coming days or months, they can find a way to talk with the two groups so they can engage them.

The UN representative welcomed the upcoming amendment of RA 7610, as it would exclude from prosecution children who are arrested for reasons rela-ted to armed conflict.