South Sudan’s rebels deny involvement in ‘recruitment of child soldiers’

Pagak/Addis Ababa, December 16, 2015 (SSNA) — The rebel military command of the Sudan people’s Liberation army-In Opposition (SPLA-IO) has denied reports that its senior Generals have involved in “child soldiers” recruitment drive, dismissing the report as “unfounded.”

Skye Wheeler, a South Sudan’s Researcher at the US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) and who also authored the report, said both government and rebel commanders have carried out “brutal and heart wrenching” recruitments and that rival forces often go to villages to grab children.

“It’s the brutal recruitment that is the most heart wrenching. Forces come through their village and grab them and force them into fighting. It’s an absolute negation of their basic rights as children, but also as people, not to be treated just as cannon fodder,” Wheeler told Reuters.

Wheeler admitted that simply releasing young boys is not enough, adding that there is need for accountability for those who have recruited children.

“It not going to be solved just by releasing boys; there also needs to be accountability for commanders who have recruited and used child soldiers to end this endless cycle,” Wheelers said.

The Human Rights Watch said it has interviewed at least 101 child soldiers and calls for an investigation against those who involved in recruitment of children.

However, South Sudanese rebels said claims in the report that its Generals were part of widespread use of children in the ongoing war are not true and that its Commanders were not involved at all. The armed opposition also said it abides by South Sudan’s child act, a law which forbids use of children in a war.

“The SPLA-IO is respecting the South Sudan’s law ‘child act” and abide by it at all levels. In response to the Human Rights Watch regarding children conscripting into army is unfounded and disregarded,” a statement released by the office of rebel military Spokesperson reads in part.

The document asserts that the leadership of the SPLA-IO is committed and willing to allow international agencies to visit rebel-held areas to carry out their investigations to find out if the rebel forces did in-fact involved in the recruitment of children.

[The] “SPLA-IO is fully committed and calling on the UN children’s agency; UNICEF and International Red cross to carry out quick survey across [our] 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 rebel military command said.

The armed opposition also invites the Human Rights Watch (HRW) to visit its headquarters, Pagak, to have what it describes as “further discussion” with the leadership of the SPLA-IO.

The rebel forces further proclaim that South Sudanese government is the only group that uses children as soldiers after it lost 75% of its armed forces soon after the war broke out in Juba in mid-December of 2013. The SPLA-IO added that kiir’s government carried out many public recruitment drives which saw thousands South Sudanese young boys being drafted into his government.

HRW released a report which named government and rebel Commanders as participants in the recruitment of children.

The report named pro-government Commanders Matthew Puljang, government General Gony Biliu, rebel Generals James Koang Chuol, Micheal Makal Kuol, Johnson Olony, among others.

Many international aid agencies have in the past accused South Sudan’s warring factions of participating in recruitment of children.

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