Armed groups rebutt child soldier report

Apr 27, 2009 (DVB), Two of Burma's main armed ethnic groups have said that accusations in a United Nations report that they continue to recruit child soldiers are wrong and damage the credibility of the report.

In March the UN Secretary General released a report that listed Burma as one of 10 countries guilty of the use of child soldiers. The Karen National Union and Karenni National Progressive Party were accused in the report.

On Saturday the KNU released a statement refuting the accusations and inviting the UN to visit areas where they are active.

"Since 2003, the KNU has not only banned the use of child soldiers under the age of 18, but has also strengthened the ban by instructing the [KNU armed wing Karen National Liberation Army] officers at all levels to follow the directive precisely and to verify and enforce the ban," said the statement.

"The mention in UNSG's current report of discovery of 'one case of a child recruited by the Karen National Union (KNU)' is probably a case of mistaken identity," it said, adding that they will launch an investigation and publish the findings.

The UN claim they have been unable to establish contact with the KNU as of December last year.

Last week Human Rights Watch slammed the report for apparently praising the Burmese government's policy on child solider recruitment, claiming it failed to highlight their continued use by the army.

"They talk about non-state armed groups, and they should, but it puts a far more positive spin on the military government's cooperation than we think they deserve," said David Mathieson, Burma researcher at HRW.

In 2002, Human Rights Watch published a report that accused Burma of being the world's leading recruiter of child soldiers.

The Karenni National Progressive Party released a statement on 18 April arguing that there was no justification for their inclusion in the report and requesting to be removed from the list.

"We, the KNPP reiterate that our armed group, the Karenni Army (KA), no longer recruit child soldiers and we do not have any under-age soldiers in our ranks," it said, adding that it had issued numerous statements in the past to that effect and had invited monitoring bodies to investigate.

The report had said that in June 2008 the parents of a 16-year-old boy who travelled to a KNPP base to become a soldier were refused his release, adding that they had sighted approximately 20 other children when they visited there.

"We are willing to offer monitoring team logistic assistance and open access to our army bases and the front line so they can monitor the situation," it said.

"We are also willing to have dialogue at any time."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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