Liberia war spawns new boy soldiers

© Reuters/CNNi

MONROVIA, Liberia (Reuters) - Liberia's return to war has raised the spectre of a new generation of youngsters leaving home and heading to the battlefront.

Refugees fleeing fighting in the west African country said they had again seen children under arms, recalling a civil war in the 1990s in which an estimated 20,000 child soldiers fought.
"I saw the rebels when they entered," said Alexander Dolo, who fled to the capital from the town of Haindi. "Many of them are young soldiers ... child soldiers," he said as he arrived in Monrovia, 75 km (45 miles) to the south. Often high on drugs, child soldiers took part in some of the most gruesome atrocities during more than a dozen years of intertwined conflict in Liberia and neighbouring Sierra Leone.

When Liberian President Charles Taylor was still a warlord, his "Small Boys Unit" was reputed for particular valour in the face of odds that more cautious adults would not brave.
Taylor's election in 1997 ended the war, in which up to 200,000 people were killed, but rebels began a new conflict in mid-2000 and recently brought fighting near to Monrovia.
Liberia, a rogue state on a United Nations blacklist, was not among the 94 countries to sign a treaty against using under 18-year-olds to fight, which took effect this month.
It is estimated that more than 300,000 children, mostly between 15 and 17 but some as young as 10, are fighting in some 40 different conflicts around the world, from west and central Africa to guerrilla struggles in Colombia.

Recruitment threat

"Kids are getting recruited again," said one diplomat in West Africa. "Really there is no reason to recruit children at the moment. There are plenty of soldiers." He said that soldiers in Liberia used the threat of forced recruitment to extort easy money from frightened families. Amnesty International said in a report that 39 men and boys were rounded up from Monrovia churches in February, herded into a crowded market place and told they must fight the rebels. The government denied the accusations.
Both the government and rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) accuse their enemies of using child soldiers but deny doing so themselves. "There are no child soldiers here. We have nothing to hide," Defence Minister Daniel Chea told Reuters. "They (the rebels) are using almost anybody -- from little boys and girls."
Rebel spokesman William Hanson, speaking by telephone, retorted: "There is no such thing, to my knowledge, on our side... It is on the other side."

People fleeing to neighbouring Ivory Coast told of attacks and abductions by groups of armed men in Monrovia, but could not say for sure who they were. "They just come knocking at your door one night," Alex, 20, told Reuters at a camp near Guiglo in northwestern Ivory Coast after he had fled from Monrovia. "Trapping young boys, carrying them, killing innocents ... " said Alex, who had crossed the border barefoot because soldiers stole his shoes.
March 1, 2002 Posted: 8:55 AM EST (1355 GMT)

© Robert W. Kranz  09-02-2002