Rebel groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have reportedly stepped up efforts to recruit child soldiers, as fighting in North Kivu continued Wednesday between the Congolese army and defecting soldiers.
Armed men entered at least one secondary school last week in the eastern DRC town of Kitchanga, intent on recruiting new fighters, officials at the National Endowment for Democracy learned Wednesday. At that school, “the kids would have been no older than 16 years old,” said Josh Marks, who manages the organization’s Central Africa program.
An Amnesty International statement also released Wednesday reported thousands of residents have fled their homes due to the increasing violence, which left at least three women dead since Saturday.
Amnesty’s DRC expert, Aachraf Sebbahi, said four boys and seven young adults have sought refuge at the United Nation’s peacekeeping mission, known as MONUSCO.
“They claimed that they were threatened by soldiers who wanted to recruit them,” said Sebbahi. “They were saying that they would have to fight for Bosco.”
General Bosco Ntaganda is a former rebel leader accused of war crimes. He and his soldiers had been integrated into the Congolese military as part of 2009 peace deal, but recent increased pressure to arrest Ntaganda has allegedly sparked a mutiny among his supporters.
A MONUSCO spokesperson in Kinshasa confirmed on Wednesday that around 10 children and young adults have sought protection with their office in Kitchanga. However, he would not confirm if the children were fleeing forced recruitment, saying MONUSCO needed to speak further with the youth.
According to Amnesty’s Sebbahi, the tensions sparked by the threat of Ntaganda’s arrest have led to an increase in child soldier recruitment – but she said Ntaganda’s supporters are not the only ones responsible.
“All the sources are saying that probably many more children have been forcibly recruited by these troops loyal to Bosco, but also by other armed groups,” she added.
General Bosco Ntaganda, a Rwandan national, led an armed group known as the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP). The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Ntaganda in 2006, accusing him of using child soldiers.