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UNICEF Concerned by Child Abductions in Southern Sudan

The U.N. Children's Fund says thousands of children have been made homeless due to inter-tribal fighting in Southern Sudan since early this year. It says it also is deeply concerned by the abduction of dozens of children, reportedly by the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

The U.N. Children's Fund says it is very concerned at the impact on children of continuing violence and conflict in a number of states of Southern Sudan. Since the start of 2009, it says thousands of children are estimated to have been displaced from their homes due to attacks by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army in Central and Western Equatoria.

It also says repeated inter-tribal clashes in Jonglei, Lakes and Warrap States have resulted in the death and abduction of many children.

UNICEF Spokeswoman Veronique Taveau says two of the worst attacks occurred in March and April in the Pibor district of Jonglei State. She says about 600 people were killed, including many women and children.

She says more than 140 children reportedly were abducted. She adds UNICEF is very worried these children might end up as child soldiers.

The Lord's Resistance Army has a long history of abducting children. During its decade-long effort to overthrow the Ugandan government, the rebel group has kidnapped an estimated 10,000 children. It has used them as child soldiers, porters and forced the girls to become sex slaves.

Taveau says schools in areas affected by the fighting were unable to open. The new school year was supposed to have begun on April 1, but parents stopped sending their children to class because of fears for their safety.

The UNICEF spokeswoman says a planned polio immunization campaign also had to be aborted because of the violence. She says vaccinators working to tackle polio outbreaks in Southern Sudan were unable to carry out their work in at least five communities.

In 2005, southern Sudan signed a comprehensive peace agreement with northern Sudan to end 20 years of civil war. UNICEF says one of the peace dividends has been the progress made in primary education and improved health care for children. It warns these gains are being jeopardized by the current level of violence.