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Chad Signs Agreement to End Child Soldier Recruitment

Chad's Minister of Foreign Affairs has signed an agreement with the United Nations to end child soldier recruitment. Phuong Tran attended the signing in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, and has this report for VOA.

Before signing the accord, Chad Minister of Foreign Affairs Djida Moussa said any child who only knows war as a way of life is a loss to society.

Families and schools in Chad have long reported their children fighting in the ongoing conflict that involves the governments of Chad and Sudan, and rebel groups in both countries looking for more power.

U.N. Children's Fund representative in Chad, Stephen Adkisson, says working with the Chadian government is the first step to find out just how bad the problem is.

"There are clearly a considerable number of children, but the actual number is part of the effort today to conduct a census across the Chadian territory with cooperation of [the] government in looking at rebel forces, children recruited by Sudanese rebel groups and other groups," he said.

In a recent survey, UNICEF discovered more than 300 child soldiers in a camp of displaced Chadians in Mongo in eastern Chad.

Chad's government denies recruiting children to fight, and has said the children lie about their ages in order to join the army.

But Chad rebel leader Amine Ben Barka, of the Concord of Progress and Recourse based in eastern Chad, says Chad army soldiers continue to freely give weapons to civilians, including many children, along the Chad-Sudanese border.

Chad's Minister of Foreign Affairs says untrained army officers are to blame for involving children.

Moussa says his government has tried and will continue to train their officers to not recruit children when trying to find soldiers.

The Chadian government agreed to work with UNICEF to create a commission of government ministers to prevent continued recruitment, to release children currently fighting, and to help them adjust to life back in their communities.

It also gives the U.N. agency permission to work with Chad's rebel groups, which the Chadian government has accused Sudan of supporting, a claim Sudan has denied.

Despite repeated peace agreements between Chad and Sudan, the most recent being a week ago, violence continues to rock the lawless border region with thousands of Chadians living out of tents and straw huts, alongside hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees.