Kenya: Sniffing Glue STREET CHILDREN

30 January 1997


LUANDA -- The government army Thursday began a long-awaited demobilization of thousands of child soldiers it drafted into its two-decade civil war against UNITA rebels.

A group of 213 child soldiers formally left the army ranks in an official ceremony here marking another small step forward in the slow-moving implementation of 1994 peace accords signed by government and rebels.

The kids, not wearing uniform or carrying guns, stepped forward for a handshake with military top brass that marked their departure from military service.

The United Nations, which brokered the peace deal to end the devastating conlict, estimates that 7,000 children who took up guns in the fighting are still in army ranks on both sides.

During the war, teenagers were a frequent sight on front lines. There are no figures on how many were killed but several thousand were maimed by landmines.

The kids would be uniformed just like adult soldiers and would choose "noms de guerre," war aliases, just like their older comrades in arms. The main difference was that they were dwarfed by the deadly weapons they carried.

UNITA - the National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola - began demobilizing its child soldiers last year and has so far returned 2,000 kids to civilian life.

The rebel movement's radio station, Vorgan, said UNITA was unable to meet Friday's deadline for the full demobilization of its child soldiers because the international community has not made available the funding pledged as part of the peace agreement.

The Government and UNITA were due to form a power-sharing government earlier this month as the final stage of the peace process but the swearing-in ceremony was postponed after differences over the future role of UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi

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