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Child abuse, rape, armed recruitment rampant in C. African Republic
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Grave violations against children are being perpetrated by all parties to the various conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR), including rape and armed recruitment into the fighting forces, according to a United Nations report released on Tuesday.

Non-State armed groups and bandits are also kidnapping children as a means of recruitment and to threaten and extort ransom from the population, while abuses against youngsters generally are committed in a climate of impunity, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon writes in his latest report to the Security Council on children and armed conflict in CAR.

"I call on all parties to the conflict to immediately and without precondition cease the recruitment and use of children and to identify and release to the United Nations those children already in their ranks," he said.

"In addition, I appeal to the government to address the prevailing culture of impunity for grave violations against children, including child recruitment, sexual violence and abductions, through rigorous investigation and prosecution," he added, stressing that this should include members of the army and presidential guard where evidence exists of abuses perpetrated by them.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general noted children have been consistently recruited and used by non-State armed groups, including government-backed self-defense militias, and that the country as a whole has been marked by a state of permanent rebellion "That has had dire humanitarian consequences."

"In addition to violations committed by rebel groups, the national armed forces, particularly the presidential guard, have also been responsible for widespread human rights abuses, including extrajudicial executions," he said. "This has provoked massive displacement of the population. Thousands of people have fled to forest hideouts where they lack even the most basic means for survival."

Several rebel groups are active throughout the country, with a high concentration of such forces in the northern regions, despite various agreements signed over the past two years, and this has been exacerbated by a spill-over from the conflicts in neighboring Chad and Sudan's Darfur region.

"The Central African Republic continues to have some of the worst child survival indicators in Africa. Given the poor human rights situation and the humanitarian crisis, children are particularly vulnerable to a range of grave violations," Ban writes. "It is estimated that children account for half of the total number of the internally displaced population, and these children also lack access to basic education and health services."

He noted that attacks on and the burning of villages by all parties have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of children. The frequent and systematic abduction of children, especially in the north "is a critical concern," perpetrated mostly by rebel groups and highway bandits for the purpose of recruitment or to extort ransom money. Rapes and abductions by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) have also been reported during its incursions into CAR.

Welcoming recent progress in the so-called Inclusive Political Dialogue process and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Ban calls on all parties to ensure that the rights of children are taken into full consideration in establishing peace and in the post- conflict recovery and reconstruction phases, and pledges that the UN will work with all parties to end the abuses.

(Xinhua News Agency February 11, 2009)

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