Tuesday, July 7 2009
“Burma Rebels Vow to Stop Using Child Soldiers”
Shan insurgents get foreign aid in return for halting use of children in country with highest number of underage conscripts.
By U.K. Columnist, Mark Tran
One of Burma’s main rebel groups has pledged to stop using child soldiers in return for outside aid in an effort to enhance its international credibility.
Leaders of the Shan State army (SSA), one of several ethnic insurgent groups battling the country’s military junta, have signed a memorandum of understanding with Abolish Slavery and International Operations Centre for Children (IOCC), two western non-governmental organisations, to prevent minors serving in its forces.
Burma has the highest number of child soldiers in the world – about 70,000. A Human Rights Watch report in 2002 found widespread forced recruitment of boys as young as 11. Subsequent reports say the number of child soldiers in Burma is largely unchanged despite international condemnation.
International law prohibits the recruitment of children under 15 and the use of child soldiers has been recognised as a war crime under the statute for the international criminal court.
In Burma, the national army is the biggest culprit. Flouting the country’s own laws that prohibit any recruitment of under 18s, the army apprehends boys at public places such as markets and bus stations, using threats and violence to force them to join. Once trained, children as young as 12 have been sent to fight against ethnic insurgent groups.
Rebel groups also forcibly conscript children. The United Wa State army, the biggest rebel force, has the largest number. The Kachin Independence army is the only armed group to recruit girls. The SSA and the Karen National Liberation army have policies against recruiting children under 18, but do not turn away children who actively seek to join.
Christian Elliott, of the IOCC, who signed the agreement with Lieutenant Colonel Kon Jern, a SSA commander, said the reason behind the insurgents’ anti-child soldiers pledge was international credibility.
“They are looking for brownie points any way they can and in return we will provide them with educational material for teachers and children, including books writing materials, computers and distant education opportunities,” Elliott said.
The Shan area once used to be a major producer of heroin but the rebel groups have made an effort to stamp out production as part of the drive for international respectability.
Elliott, who made the arduous trek into Burma to sign the agreement, said the SSA has between 2,000 and 3,000 soldiers.
The rebel group has also agreed to provide evidence of human rights abuses by the Burmese army in the form of video and photographs. The material is to be displayed on the Abolish Slavery website in support of the SSA’s to help the people of the Shan state, in the east of the country.
Home to several ethnic armed groups, Shan remains largely outside central government control.