UN hopes junta will discuss child soldiers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 25 June, 2007, 12:00am

A senior UN envoy is arriving in Yangon today to investigate the situation of children affected by armed conflict and set up a programme to monitor violations against children in the country, where child soldiers are common.

The trip comes just as the UN has begun to seriously re-evaluate its role in Myanmar.

This is the first visit the UN's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has made to the country and diplomats see it as a hopeful sign that the military junta may be more inclined to engage the international community than it has in the past few years.

She has asked to meet senior government officials, senior military commanders, representatives of civil society and meet children in conflict areas, according to UN officials.

'The agenda has not been finalised yet,' a UN official said.

Dr Coomaraswamy will meet acting prime minister General Thein Sein, who is regarded as the most intelligent member of the government, and open to dialogue.

'We feel there is a chance the government may be fairly serious about co-operating - or at least being seen to be - on this issue,' a UN official said. 'If nothing else, because it's on the Security Council agenda and because it gives them a chance to discredit the figure of 70,000 child soldiers that is always bandied about.'

The head of the UN team in Myanmar, Charles Petrie, said at the United Nations in New York last week that since 2003, the UN had been able 'to start addressing some very difficult issues' with the military government, including the problem of child soldiers.

Myanmar has been heavily criticised by human rights groups over the past two decades for recruiting child soldiers, some as young as 11.