Grounded: Child combatants
sent home in Sudan

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Southern-based Sudanese rebels have agreed to demobilize thousands of children who served as combatants in the war against the Khartoum regime.

The United Nations reported that the Sudanese People's Liberation Army has been sending children home in the Western Upper Nile region. The SPLA mobilized thousands of children in the 20-year-old war against the Khartoum regime.

In wake of a year-long ceasefire, the SPLA began what UN sources termed a "large demobilization of children in the volatile Western Upper Nile region." The sources said the SPLA plans to demobilize 800 children soldiers in the area.

Already, a UN statement said, the SPLA ordered 94 children to lay down their guns, hand in their uniforms and return to their families. The statement said the SPLA, in a ceremony in the village of Tam, told the children to attend school in their communities, Middle East Newsline reported.

The UN also reported that 18,000 Sudanese refugees crossed into Chad from the rebel-held Darfour region. The Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement, which is not formally connected to the SPLA, has been battling the Khartoum regime for more than a year for control of the area.

The statement quoted refugees as saying that Sudanese forces attacked 10 villages in the canton of Djerbira on Jan. 16. The refugees said the troops burned houses and dynamited wells, sparking an exodus by villagers to Chad.

On Saturday, the SLA/M claimed that its forces killed 700 Sudanese soldiers and downed a military helicopter in a battle in northern and western Darfour. The rebel group said the battle lasted a week and that government troops fled to neighboring Chad.

The SLA/M has also agreed to join forces with the Beja Congress. SLA/M operates in the western part of Darfour while Beja operates in the eastern sector of the province.

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