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Burmese army returns child soldiers

June 3, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese army has reportedly handed eight child soldiers back to their families in a ceremony in Rangoon attended by international monitoring bodies such as UNICEF and Save the Children.

The ceremony, reported in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, was conducted by the army-run Work Committee for Prevention against Recruitment of Minors, whose stated aim is to find and demobilise child soldiers in the military.

"We think this is a positive step by the army, and it was the first time we were invited to such an event," said a spokesperson from UNICEF in Burma, who have been monitoring use of child soldiers in the country.

In 2002, Human Rights Watch named Burma's ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) as the world's leading recruiter of child soldiers.

The problem however is not confined to the government, with several of the armed opposition groups, including the Karen National Union, believed to also recruit child soldiers.

Use of child soldiers contravenes even Burmese domestic law, and has been cited by former senior legal adviser to the International Criminal Court (ICC), Morten Bergsmo, as a reason for bringing Burma's ruling general, Than Shwe, to trial at the ICC.

Similarly, a report released last month by the Harvard Law School said that the situation for Burma's child soldiers warranted significant attention from the UN Security Council.

"I think it [the ceremony] is about pretending that they're actually doing something rather than really taking all the reforms that need to be taken," said David Mathieson, Burma analyst at Human Rights Watch.

"If they're releasing eight children, then great for those eight children, but that's not all of them and a lot more needs to be done before the problem goes away," he said, adding that the SPDC were looking for "congratulation" on the issue.

"But when it comes to the rights of the child you should never get congratulations for something like that because it never should have happened in the first place," he said.

Reporting by Francis Wade


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