Fri 29 Jun 2007
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Myanmar’s military junta has agreed to set up a special government position to deal with the U.N. children’s agency on the issue of child soldiers, a U.N. envoy said Friday.
“The good news is they agreed to set up a focal point at the Ministry of Social Welfare to engage directly with UNICEF,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. special representative for children and armed conflicts. She gave no further details before leaving the country.
Coomaraswamy arrived in Myanmar on Monday to act on a 2005 U.N. Security Council resolution to set up a system to monitor abuse of children in armed conflict. The U.N. lists Myanmar as a country that uses child soldiers.
She met with acting Prime Minister Lt. Gen. Thein Sein, who is also chairman of the Committee for Prevention of Recruitment of Minors for Military Service, and other senior officials in Naypyidaw, the new capital, 400 kilometers (250 miles) north of Yangon. She also visited a military recruitment center in Mandalay, 715 kilometers (445 miles) north of Yangon.
Coomaraswamy said she also met with the United Wa State Army, one of the armed ethnic groups that was listed in the Security Council report as using child soldiers. The UWSA, with an estimated 20,000 soldiers, at times fights the Shan State Army in the northeast of the country.
She did not meet with the Karen National Union and the Karenni army because of “political sensitivities,” she said.
“We are in the process of negotiating an arrangement (with the Myanmar and Thai governments) by which we can talk to them,” Coomaraswamy said.
Both the Karen and Karenni people are concentrated in eastern Myanmar near the border with Thailand.
Human rights groups have long criticized the military junta and ethnic minorities fighting for more autonomy for recruiting large numbers of child soldiers, some as young as 11.
Currently only the Karen National Union, through its armed wing the Karen National Liberation Army, is fighting the government. The Karenni National Progressive Party signed a cease-fire agreement with the government in the 1990s, but continues to have an army.
Both Myanmar’s government and the KNU have denied the allegations.
Myanmar, also called Burma, has also faced international criticism for other human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture and forced labor.
The U.S. and Europe have imposed tough political and economic sanctions on the junta for its human rights record and failure to hand over power to a democratically elected government.
New York-based Human Rights Watch published an extensive report in 2002 that estimated 70,000 soldiers in Myanmar’s army of about 350,000 were under the age of 18.