Senior United Nations officials are concerned about reports of dozens of children who escaped from the rebel 23 March Movement (M23) in the DRC being retaken by the group.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict cited reports indicating at least 53 children are at risk of being re-recruited in Nyiragongo Territory, North Kivu Province, in eastern DRC.
The M23 rebel group is made up of former members of the Congolese armed forces, known by the French acronym FARDC, who mutinied in April 2012.
“I strongly condemn the recruitment and use of children as well as other grave child rights violations committed by M23 and other armed groups,” Roger Meece, UN Secretary-General Special Representative in the DRC, said.
He and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, urged M23 and other armed groups to “immediately stop abusing children.”
“I want to remind their leaders they will be personally held accountable for any violations against children, including the recruitment, re-recruitment or use of children in their ranks,” Zerrougui added.
The children are apparently part of a group of at least 70 people recruited in Nyiragongo and Rutshuru territories.
“They escaped from the rebel group during clashes between Bosco Ntanganda and Sultani Makenga’s factions in February 2013. Since then, 17 have reportedly fled the area while the remaining 53 are still in hiding in several locations,” MONUSCO said.
The UN Mission added it continues to receive “worrying reports” that members of M23 are meeting local chiefs and requesting them to identify and handover combatants who have deserted.
MONUSCO said it is doing its utmost to access these children to ensure their protection and reunite them with their families.
Meece and Zerrougui reiterated their joint commitment to ensure full protection of children affected by the armed conflict in the east of the country in collaboration with the government, the UN and NGO partners.