UN says nine child soldiers handed over to peacekeepers as conflict worsens in Mali
An unnamed source said the children were between 15 and 17 years old, and ‘some of them are showing signs of trauma’
Nine child soldiers have been handed over to UN peacekeepers in the city of Kidal in Mali, which is controlled by a former rebel group, according to a spokesman in New York.
“Good news from our colleagues in the peacekeeping mission in Mali... Nine child combatants were handed over to the UN mission in Kidal this morning,” said UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
“The mission is organising their transportation to Gao and making arrangements for their care by child protection officials pending reunification with their family,” he added, without giving the ages of the children.
A source with the UN mission in Mali, however, said the children were between 15 and 17 years old, and “some of them are showing signs of trauma”.
Meanwhile, the Malian Human Rights Association (AMDH) called for “a thorough investigation” to “identify armed groups that use child soldiers” and prosecute the offenders.
Fighting between the former rebel group – the Coordination of Movements of Azawad (CMA) – and the pro-government group called Platform has worsened in recent weeks in northern Mali, violating a 2015 ceasefire agreement.
“We were able to establish that the armed groups had minors in their ranks,” said Guillaume Ngefa, director of the human rights division of the UN mission to Mali.
“What is extremely concerning is that among the 33 people currently held prisoner by the CMA in Kidal, eight are children,” he said, noting that the children could be soldiers.
The conflict has raged since 2012, when key cities in northern Mali fell under the control of jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda, who exploited an ethnic rebel uprising by Tuareg separatists.
The armed groups, which are accused of abuses by the UN, operate in areas where Mali’s army is absent or has a very limited presence.
Although the Islamists were largely ousted by a French-led military operation, attacks have continued on UN and French forces, civilians and the Malian army.
Allegations of collusion between the former rebels and jihadists continue to circulate.