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Burma's Army Releases 68 Child Soldiers

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The United Nations is welcoming Burma's release of 68 child soldiers as a major step in efforts to end the use of underage fighters in the country's armed forces.

Wednesday's release is the largest of four such discharges since the Southeast Asian country signed an agreement with the U.N. last June to abolish the practice.

So far, 176 children used and recruited as fighters have been returned to their families. Last year, Burma vowed to release all remaining child soldiers from its armed forces by early 2014.

U.N. Children's Fund Deputy Burma Representative Shalini Bahuguna welcomed the move as a "positive action," but said the time has come "for the mass release of all children" from the country's armed forces.

She said Burma should "continue accelerating identification and registration so that all children are discharged as a matter of urgency."

A UNICEF statement also urged all "non-state armed groups" in Burma to immediately end the recruitment of children.



The U.N. says at least seven other armed groups, apart from the government armed forces, recruit and use child soldiers in Burma, including several rebel and separatist groups.

Some analysts say the problem is worse among government forces, since the Burmese army is struggling to keep soldiers from defecting.

Since taking power last year, Burma's nominally civilian government has undertaken several reforms, including easing media restrictions, allowing more freedom to opposition groups and releasing hundreds of political prisoners.

But rights groups and activists have said that, despite the political and economic reforms, there have been no significant changes in human rights abuses carried out by Burma's military, particularly in rebel-dominated areas.

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FILE - President Barack Obama waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland en route to Southeast Asia, November 17, 2012.

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