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UN to Set Up Refuge for Liberian Child Soldiers - 2003-08-18

The U.N. Children's Fund says it will start setting up transit centers in Monrovia, Liberia, this week for child soldiers who need a safe place to stay.

The U.N. Children's Fund says child soldiers are totally unprotected. It says they are caught in a no-win situation in which many do not want to leave their militia groups because they have lost everything and cannot go back to their home communities.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says some children, who have tried to leave their groups, reportedly have been killed. He says these children have been forced to commit brutal acts. This puts them at risk of being killed by civilians seeking revenge.

"The difficulty also is that a lot of boys and girls, the only way for them to survive is to have guns, to be part of this militia," he said. "A lot of them are not from Monrovia. So, they do not have family to take care of them. A lot of them are going from the countryside. If they do not have any guns, then they have no way to survive and in Monrovia, the competition for food is extremely high."

Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF is in the process of setting up transit centers where the children can sleep, eat, and get some vocational training.

"We need to make sure UNICEF and other U.N. agencies such as WFP [World Food Program] make sure that they get food. We need to make sure that they get sufficient water and proper sanitation facilities. That is it," he said. "We need to negotiate also with ECOMIL, the West African forces for at least their safety. This is going to be very temporary, we hope. It may end up to be for weeks, maybe months. We never know with Liberia frankly. But, it is the first measure which at least we know that these children will be safe."

Mr. Personnaz says the demobilization of child soldiers is something that will occur within the context of a peace agreement. And that, he said, will take time. Until that happens, he says, the priority is to disarm the children and give them shelter.