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Burundi: Former child soldiers reunited with families

16-02-2004 News Release 04/16

Last week, 10 boys were reunited with their families in rural Burundi after being used as child soldiers in violation of international law.

The details of their stories may be quite different, but their ordeal was the same. Some had fled Burundi with their families following the outbreak of fighting in 1993, and were living in refugee camps in Tanzania when they were recruited by armed groups who took them off to fight in Burundi and later in the eastern Congo. Others were abducted by armed groups while attending school in Burundi, and then also taken to fight in eastern Congo. All of them were less than 15 years of age – the youngest only 11 – when this happened. Most were sent into combat; others carried munitions. Several were wounded or fell sick and were simply left by the wayside to fend for themselves.

One way or another, all 10 ended up in transit centres in eastern Congo, where they were visited by ICRC delegates. The organization traced their families in Burundi and put them in touch by means of Red Cross messages (brief personal messages to relatives made unreachable by armed conflict). Both the children and their families said they wanted to be reunited.

Last week, delegates accompanied the 10 boys across the border and brought them back to their villages in rural Burundi where they were finally reunited with their families.

The ICRC will continue to help former child soldiers return to their families.

The ICRC appeals to all armed groups, and the regular Burundian army, to demobilize child soldiers without exception and without delay. It also calls for a complete separation of the issue of demobilizing child soldiers from the ongoing political negotiations over the demobilization and reintegration of adult combatants.

 For further information, please contact:  

 Christophe Beney or Andrea Pontiroli, ICRC Bujumbura,  

 tel. ++257 21 28 65 / ++257 21 29 08 / ++257 944 380