MILF to stop using child warriors

Published by rudy Date posted on December 8, 2008

A ranking United Nations official said yesterday the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has committed to stop its practice of recruiting and using children in combat operations.

A statement from the Office of the Presidential Adviser for the Peace Process quoted visiting UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy as saying that the MILF “will enter into an action plan with UNICEF to stop the recruitment and use of children in combat.”

Coomaraswamy made the announcement during her talk with Presidential Adviser on Peace Process Secretary Hermogenes Esperon Jr. at the latter’s office in Pasig City.

She had just returned from a trip to Central Mindanao where she observed first-hand the various measures undertaken by the Philippine government in the protection of children in armed conflict areas, the statement said.

“The primacy purpose of this visit, requested by the (UN) Security Council, was to discuss ways and means of securing the release of children being recruited by the MILF and the New People’s Army (NPA),” she added.

The UN official welcomed the decision of the MILF to comply with the Security Council’s recommendations.

She said the Secretary-General for the use and recruitment of children lists these armed groups.

The MILF and the NPA have both been accused of recruiting children into their ranks. Previously, both groups insisted the children joined willingly and served as spies, couriers or aides.

During her meeting with Esperon and other government and military officials, Coomaraswamy raised concerns on the alleged involvement of children in the paramilitary Citizens Armed Force Geographical Unit and Community Volunteers Organizations operating in some conflict areas.

She said the government has assured her to immediately issue a directive for all local units to strictly adhere to existing national legislation that no one under 18 years old shall be recruited as child soldiers.

She cited the importance to improve the child protection provisions in the ongoing peace progress with various rebel groups.

She welcomed the proposed amendment to Republic Act 7610 that would exclude from prosecution children who are arrested for reasons related to armed conflict, considering them as victims instead of perpetrators.

Esperon assured Coomaraswamy that the government would exert all efforts to protect children involved in armed conflict areas in the country.

Coomaraswarmy deplored the recent surge in fighting between government forces and MILF guerrillas in Mindanao, which has forced thousands of children to flee to overcrowded evacuation centers.

The MILF action comes after the United States in October made it a federal crime for rebel groups in the Philippines and 16 other countries to recruit or to use soldiers under the age of 15.

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

Coomaraswamy called on the Arroyo government to undertake targeted interventions with the assistance of UN agencies, particularly the UNICEF, on the management of camps that have children to ensure water and sanitation, health, food security, psycho-social support and protection of civilians.

Meantime, a church-based group has documented incidents of children who are victims of human rights violations and exploited women who have been tortured in detention centers in the country.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines’ official news service provider CBCPNews said that the People’s Recovery, Empowerment Development Assistance Foundation (PREDA) aims to inform the public on the true plight of children and women in prison. – Katherine Adraneda, Evelyn Macairan, Non Alquitran, Paolo Romero, Philippine Star

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