March 24, 2012 (JUBA) – South Sudan’s army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) on Saturday denied using child soldiers.
- Former child soldiers leave the arms behind, South Sudan (UN)
Pieng Deng Kuol, the deputy chief of general staff in the SPLA told Sudan Tribune there were children in their ranks during the civil war, which were not recruited by the army, but were released by 2001.
Kuol said that the SPLA “always make sure that child right groups including UN agencies enter our camps” and that these groups were informed when children were identified in rebel groups.
The UN special representative for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said on Friday said that there are still child soldiers in the SPLA, and that it is "very important that we de-list them as soon as possible."
"If you’re a violator that’s been persistent, there’s the possibility of sanctions," she added, noting those could include asset freezes, and arms or travel embargoes. She conceded that South Sudan has made progress on this front since independence.
"We estimate that there will be about 2,000 children that will be released," said Coomaraswamy
The South Sudan government in February announced the signing of a deal with a rebel group formerly under the leadership of the late George Athor, who launched his rebellion in 2010 after failing to win gubernatorial election against the incumbent Jonglei governor, Kuol Manyang Juuk.
Athor was one of the senior commanders who fought against Sudanese government during more than two decades of civil war between the north and South.
He was killed in December 2011 in Morobo County, Central Equatoria, where he was reported to have gone to seek new recruits into his movement.
He was killed less than a month after signing an agreement witnessed by South Sudan president Salva Kiir, in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi in November 2011.
He was replaced by Peter Kuol Chol Awan, who responded to a presidential amnesty and came to Juba in February, 2012. Unverified reports claim there were 1,500 soldiers under the age of 18 in his ranks.
The signing of a peace deal with another rebel group in 2011, led by David Yau Yau who fought agains tht Juba government under the leadership of Athor in Pibor reportedly led to the intergration of 80 child soldiers into the national army.
The SPLA released a memorandum of understanding in March pledging to not use child soldiers.
In 2003 while fighting Khartoum’s forces, the SPLA was put on a UN blacklist of forces that use child soldiers.
Majak D’ Agoot, the country’s deputy minister of defence, said in February that the army needed to reduce its number of troops but declined to give exact figures.
The country’s Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration commission (DDR), is targeting to disarm 90,000, having disarmed 12,500 up to April 2011. Phase two of the programme will begin in April 2012.