Home | News    Tuesday 15 December 2015

SPLM-IO dismisses HRW’s report on child soldier’s recruitment

By Tesfa-Alem Tekle

December 14, 2015 (ADDIS ABABA) – The rebel faction of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM-IO) on Monday dismissed allegations that the armed opposition group was conscripting child soldiers.

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Child soldiers salute their commander (AFP)

The armed opposition group was responding to a Human Rights Watch report that opposition forces led by former vice-president, Riek Machar were recruiting child soldiers to fight during a nearly two-year long conflict in the East African nation.

The deputy spokesman for the SPLA-IO, Dickson Gatluak, in a statement, said the accusations by the US-based right group were “unfounded” and should be disregarded.

He instead pointed fingers at Juba and accused government forces of allegedly using and forcibly conscripting children to compensate its thousands of soldiers who defected to the opposition group.

“Since December 15, 2013 when the war broke out in Juba, South Sudan government had lost 75% of its national army to rebellion in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile”, said Gatluak.

“This forced government to make force recruitment on children and bring in Ugandan army in order to narrow the gaps” he added.

The opposition official said SPLA-IO operational commander Gen. James Koang Chuol has previously given a clear order to all units under his command with in SPLA-IO not to recruit soldiers below the require ages of full physical fitness to military training camps or participate in combats.

The rights body said its latest report was based on interviews with 101 child soldiers who were either forcibly recruited or joined forces to protect themselves and their communities.

“Commanders have deliberately and brutally recruited and used children to fight, in total disregard for their safety and South Sudan’s law” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

The group urged South Sudan leaders to halt what it said was a "massive" recruitment and use of children in this conflict, which deepens the decades-old patterns of abuse.

Gatluak, however, admitted that the former deputy chief of operation, Peter Gatdet Yak who was sacked by Machar in July had been recruiting child soldiers while in command.

He said the SPLA-IO respects South Sudan’s Child Act and abides by all its provisions.

“The commanders named in the report like Brigadier. Micheal Makal Kuol and Gen Johnson Olony were preserving souls from damnation for those children who were either forcibly recruited by Juba or joined forces to protect themselves and their communities in Unity and Chollo land in Upper Nile states”, stressed Gatluak.

He called on the United Nations children’s agency (UNICEF) and Red Cross to conduct an immediate survey across divisions, brigades, battalions, company and platoon levels under SPLA-IO at all war fronts to identify, demobilize the number of children may have been involves in the conflict across the country and reunite them with their families.

The opposition group further invited the Human Rights Watch to visit the rebel’s military headquarters for further discussion with higher management of SPLA-IO command in order to make significant headway in ending the use of child soldiers in South Sudan.

Both warring factions had long been under persistent accusations of recruiting children disregard to their promises to halt use of child soldiers.

Last year, a report by UNICEF revealed that both warring factions recruited as many as 9000 children in to their ranks. Both sides denied allegations by a number of right bodies.