Tuesday, May 08, 2007

HRW urges Maoists to release child soldiers

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has asked the Maoists to immediately release all child soldiers from their forces, whom it said have been 'held for months in the cantonments sites'.

In a letter sent to Minister of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Khadga Bahadur Bishwakarma, who is the central committee member of the Maoist party, the human rights body said on Tuesday that this was necessary to secure the Maoists' cooperation with the United Nations and child protection agencies to allow children to return home without further delay.

The rights body has claimed that of more than 30,000 PLA members registered in the cantonments created under Comprehensive Peace Agreement, an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 are children under the age of 18.

"There's no excuse for letting children languish in cantonment sites month after month," a statement by the organisation quoted its children's advocate Jo Becker as saying. "Under the terms of Nepal's peace agreement, these children should be released immediately so they can enter rehabilitation programs, get back into school, and rejoin their families," he said.

The peace agreement between the government and the Maoists in November specifically prohibits the enlistment or use of children under the age of 18, and specifies that such children should be immediately rescued and provided with rehabilitation services.

The letter sent to Bishwakarma reminded the minister of his presence in a February conference in Paris, where representatives from 58 countries committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

At the conference, participating governments had agreed to support and apply new guidelines called the 'Paris Principles,' for protecting children from recruitment and providing assistance to those who have already been involved with armed forces or groups.

Becker further said, "Minister Bishwakarma should work with the Maoists to implement the commitments that have been made." Human Rights Watch also claimed that it has 'credible reports' of Maoist forces recruiting children in various parts of the country.

United Nations secretary-general to the UN Security Council in a report in December 2006 recommended that the Maoists should immediately end the use of children and cease any new recruitment of children in their forces. It said the Maoists should immediately engage with the UNMIN for an action plan to ensure transparent procedures for the release and verification of all children within the Maoist armed forces and all other Maoist-affiliated organisations.

Chief of the UNMIN Ian Martin has also repeatedly stated the presence of a large number of children in the Maoist forces. Denying exact numbers, Martin said they would be rescued from the cantonments for rehabilitation, to be carried out by UNICEF, after the second phase of verification. Maoists hav

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