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Three thousand child soldiers sent home

News 24

March 24, 2005

Bujumbura - The Burundian government has demobilised 2,923 child soldiers in the first 15 months of a peace process meant to end the country's civil war, but more than 5 000 remain within government and rebel ranks, officials said on Thursday.

General Libere Hicuburundi, the head of the government's demobilisation and re-integration programme, said the four-year, UN-sponsored programme was going well.

"These children are those who went through demobilisation centres and have joined their families after a series of classes since the demobilisation process began," Hicuburundi said.

The programme was waiting for more child soldiers to be identified. The 5 000 children that officials believe remain are among more than 55 000 combatants who are being demobilised following the country's 12-year civil war.

Only one, small rebel group has not joined the power-sharing government, but talks are expected to begin again soon with the National Liberation Forces.

Desire Gatoto, who manages the civilian part of the child soldier programme, said the work with child soldiers would continue, despite the remaining fighting around the capital, Bujumbura.

"We are systematically doing identification, and every child identified as an ex-child combatant is automatically taken to the demobilisation centre," Gatoto said. "It is very difficult to state the exact date at which we will finish demobilising children."

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