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UN Moves to Protect Children in Armed Conflict

The U.N. Security Council has adopted a resolution aimed at protecting children caught up in armed conflict. The measure is seen as the beginning of a movement to prevent warring factions from recruiting and abusing children.

It was hailed as both a monumental advance in protecting children, and as a timid first step in the United Nations' effort to address an international outrage.

After months of diplomatic wrangling, the Security Council Tuesday created a mechanism to monitor governments and rebel groups that kill, cripple, or sexually abuse children in war zones, or recruit them as soldiers.

The special U.N. representative for children in armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, hailed it as a "truly historic development. It is for the first time saying it is not enough to condemn, we must actually move and ensure accountability. It isn't enough to have rules and standards and resolutions and conventions. We must set up in place a system that can deliver on compliance. In short, today we've entered long-awaited era of application. It is a particularly special moment," he said.

Child protection experts caution that the resolution does little more than begin a process of monitoring 54 warring factions in 11 conflict zones. It imposes no penalties on violators.

Among those to be watched immediately will be governments or rebel groups in Congo, Burundi, Ivory Coast, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Somalia.

Beginning next year, the monitoring will be extended to conflicts not on the Security Council agenda, including those in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Burma, Uganda, and Colombia.

The U.N. special envoy, Mr. Otunnu, is pushing for further steps in the future, including the threat of sanctions against factions that fail to comply with standards set out in the resolution. The sanctions would include travel bans, arms embargoes and freezing assets.

Mr. Otunnu says with the exception of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, the proposed sanctions could hit hard at warring factions, most of whom depend on outside support.

"The Lord's Resistance Army of Uganda is a group which barely depends on any outside support to conduct its operations and to that extent it is probably not sensitive to what the world has to say, but the rest, by and large they have very well knit international connections that make it possible for them to procure arms, to get financial support. To conduct diplomatic lobbying, and it is possible, using all the means at our disposal, very few of these groups are outside the reach of international pressure," he said.

United Nations figures indicate at least two million children have died in armed conflicts around the world in the past decade. Six million others have been wounded, many of them left crippled by their wounds.

The world body says a 250,000 child soldiers are currently being exploited worldwide.That figure is down from 350,000 a few years ago. But the U.N. experts say abductions of children are increasing in places such as Sudan's Darfur region, northern Uganda, Burundi and Nepal.