, GENEVA, Jan 4 – UNICEF on Friday called on rebels and pro-government militias in the Central African Republic (CAR) to stop recruiting children to fight in the conflict there that has seen insurgents seize key towns.
“Reliable sources have informed us that children are newly being recruited among their ranks,” Souleymane Diabate, the UN children’s agency in the capital Bangui, said in a statement.
UNICEF condemned the involvement of boys and girls “who may be forced to fight, carry supplies, perform other support roles and be abused as sex slaves by armed groups”.
It said that even before the current conflict erupted last month, about 2,500 children were associated with multiple armed groups, including self-defence groups, in CAR.
More than 300,000 children have been affected by the violence in the country and its consequences, including through recruitment, family separation, sexual violence, forced displacement and having no or limited access to education and health facilities, it said.
The United Nations humanitarian agency (OCHA) meanwhile said that were serious concerns about the protection of civilians amid reports of widespread looting and violence.
An estimated 316,000 people are living in the affected areas, and some 700,000 persons in Bangui are at further risk of an escalation in fighting, it said in its latest situation report.
The Seleka rebel coalition’s lightning three-week advance from the north of the country to within striking distance of Bangui has raised fears of a spreading crisis and drawn regional calls for peace negotiations.