Rebel fighters in Sudan have signed a breakthough deal to let the United Nations into its bases, to check it isn’t using child soldiers.
The Justice and Equality Movement (Jem) says it has no child soldiers in its ranks after signing an agreement promising to protect children caught up in the Darfur conflict.
Today’s deal means that the UN can now take into its care any children found in army areas or in fighting zones. It also agreed to protect children caught up in the violence from sexual violence.
As many as 6,000 children have been involved in fighting in Darfur since February 2003 when the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) groups in Darfur started violence accusing the Sudanese government of holding down black Africans in favour of Arabs. All sides of the conflict having been accused of recruiting children for combat. In late 2008, there were about 6,000 child soldiers in Darfur, according to figures from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). The youngest were just 11 years of age, while most were aged between 15 and 17.
Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir signed a ceasefire deal Doha with the JEM in February, marking the first step toward ending the seven-year conflict in the country's western region. But peace talks broke down in May, with the JEM claiming that the government had launched new raids.
Today’s agreement, which has been under negotiation since 2008, sets a precedent in the sense that even after the peace talks broke down, they were able to carry on with and wrap up an agreement on humanitarian grounds. “I think it is very important that the Sudanese government or any other government, that they continue respecting the fact that humanitarian issues need to be negotiated on a separate track from the peace track," said Unicef’s Nils Kastberg.
He said says the pact is aimed at demobilizing child soldiers. But it also aims to protect children from being killed or scarred during fighting and to prevent attacks against schools and hospitals.
"They claim not to have any child combatants,” Mr Kastberg told The Voice of America. “That is their position. But, we have the ability to access any area, at anytime within, obviously no other requirements than the usual notification in order to make the preparatory arrangements and to verify for ourselves that there are no children associated or recruited into the Justice and Equality Movement."