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Conflicts in Congo, Liberia Devastate Children, says UN Official

A high level U.N. official warns that conflicts in Congo's eastern Ituri region and in Liberia are having a devastating effect on children. U.N. Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Olara Otunnu says an unknown number of children have been killed in the violence in the town of Bunia in the Democratic Republic of Congo and around Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

He says thousands more have been affected by the bloodshed.

Mr. Otunnu says widespread recruitment of children as soldiers and sexual abuse are among the most serious problems.

"People are actually being killed, among them children," he said. "There has been massive displacement of population, a large number of these are children. Schools are not functioning anymore. There have been reports of attacks on schools and hospitals where children are located, and especially grave is the increasing incidence of grave sexual abuse, the abduction and rape of girls, both in Liberia and in Ituri."

Mr. Otunnu backs Secretary General Kofi Annan's call for a robust, multi-national force for Liberia. The call for international peacekeepers in Liberia comes just weeks after a French-led multi-national force began deployment in the Congo's Ituri region.

The Bush administration has not expressed itself on sending troops to Liberia. President Bush has said Liberian President Charles Taylor must abide by a cease-fire agreement and give up power.