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UN Fears Armed Colombian Groups Recruiting Children - 2002-05-21

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said it is concerned that armed groups in Colombia are forcing refugee children to join their fight against government troops.

UNHCR said it is getting reports that rebel groups in Colombia are forcing children to fight as soldiers in the rebel conflict with the Colombian government.

UNHCR spokeswoman Jennifer Clark said the reports say the rebel groups are recruiting child soldiers in Colombia's border areas with Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela. "We had some reports that illegal armed groups from Columbia have been recruiting, particularly Colombian boys under the age of 18, in these regions to fight. This is of great concern to us. It is a violation of international law and the rights of children and certainly can have serious consequences for the refugees and particularly the children," Ms. Clarke said.

She said the UNHCR fears that if the conflict between rebels and Colombian government troops intensifies, rebel groups could increase their recruitment of child soldiers.

UNHCR has said thousands of people have been displaced inside Colombia or almost 8,000 have fled to neighboring countries.

The agency said it is providing humanitarian assistance to these people. It also says that people fleeing the conflict in Colombia must be protected and have their right to asylum guaranteed.