South Sudan's Liberation Army Signs Pact With UN To Release Child Soldiers

The Sudanese People's Liberation Army of South Sudan (SPLA) on Monday signed an agreement with the United Nations renewing its commitment to release all children within its ranks.

Since 2005, the SPLA has been listed on the U.N. Secretary-General's list of parties to conflict who recruit and use children. Although the action plan represents a renewal of commitments made in 2009, the SPLA, as a national army, is signing for the first time. The agreement also requires that all militias that are being incorporated into the SPLA are child-free.

"This is an important day for South Sudan - the world's newest country. Not only does this action plan ensure the Government's commitment that the SPLA will have no children within its ranks, but all armed groups who have accepted amnesty with the Government must also release their children," said the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.

"For this agreement to make a real difference for children, implementation is a must," she added in her remarks at the signing ceremony in Juba, capital of South Sudan.

The agreement - known as the 'Action Plan' - ensures that a transparent system is in place for disciplinary action against commanders who recruit children within the SPLA. It also improves communication among commanders to make sure that the practice of child recruitment is halted and responsibility for child protection is understood on all levels.

"This is an excellent example of the newest nation's Army moving in the right direction concerning the protection and well-being of children in South Sudan," said Yasmin Ali Haque, Representative of the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) in the country. "The next step is to ensure that the reintegration of these children is successful and sustainable," she added.

The agreement, which also institutionalizes child protection within the SPLA, was signed by the South Sudan Defense Ministry, the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission in the country(UNMISS), UNICEF and Coomaraswamy.

During her visit, the Special Representative will travel to Jonglei state, where she hopes to meet with the Lou Nuer and Murle communities to discuss child protection issues, including child soldiers and child abduction.

Meanwhile, Jonglei just began the process of civilian disarmament, with UNMISS stating that it will provide support by collecting weapons held illegally and monitoring developments in the region.

"The widespread possession and use of illegal weapons by the communities and the proliferation of small arms constitutes a significant threat to peace and security in South Sudan, and is seriously exacerbating inter-communal violence in Jonglei," said the Secretary-General's Special Representative and head of UNMISS, Hilde F. Johnson.

UNMISS, which will have both its peacekeepers and civilian teams present in Jonglei to monitor developments, stressed in a news release that the disarmament process will only be successful if it is carried out as part of a comprehensive approach to peace, justice and reconciliation, and includes protection of the communities by security forces.

UNMISS urged community leaders, government officials and security forces to do their utmost to ensure that the disarmament process happens in an orderly and safe manner, with respect for basic human rights.

Deadly clashes between the Lou Nuer and Murle communities in late December and early January displaced tens of thousands of civilians in Jonglei and prompted U.N. agencies to launch a major humanitarian operation to assist those in need.

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