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Poverty dragging child soldiers back to war

Poverty and a lack of prospects is driving children who once fought for Hutu rebel soldiers in Burundi to again take up their weapons.

Burundi, one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world, has since 1994 been plagued by ethnic fighting between the dominant Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority which has claimed 300,000 lives.

About 9,000 children fought as soldiers in the civil war which ended after talks in 2001 set up a power-sharing government and most of the rebel groups stuck to a ceasefire.

The government and the United Nations then started disarming thousands of soldiers many, and former rebels and setting up a new national army.

Claude, now 21, fought as a lieutenant to Hutu chiefs. But now he wears ragged trousers and women’s sandals

When he went back to his hometown of Maramvya after the war, Claude found out that his parents and friends were among the dead and he was the only person left to support his younger brothers.

"When we were in the bush, life was very good because you could make an ambush for cars and steal things," he says. "Now, I have to struggle so that my small brothers live … there is no hope," he told the Guardian.

There are thousands of former child soldiers in a similar position. Many of them are hoping to a return to civil war, because they think that will make them better off.

This year there have been several gun battles in Burundi, which experts believe are a struggle for power on the part of the Hutu.

Claude was only a child when the civil war began and as he saw several of his relatives and friends become casualties, he took up with the fighters, who murdered raped and stole.When several of his friends and family members died, Claude, barely a teenager, decided to take up arms. Within a year, he was promoted from the rank-and-file to sub-officer. The fighters murdered, raped and stole.

The economy collapsed and when the ceasefire came, thousands of Hutu rebels were integrated into the military. But Claude missed out. He struggled to find work. There are thousands like him who are also struggling. Poor and angry, many are considering returning to their former lives.

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