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Reports: US Secretary of State to Take Myanmar, Iraq Off Child Soldiers List

FILE - Trainees stand at attention at an army training base in Pathein, Irawaddy, Myanmar.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is expected to take Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and Iraq off a list of countries that use or recruit child soldiers, in an announcement set for Tuesday, according to media reports.

The Reuters news agency reported last week that by delisting those countries, Tillerson is overruling recommendations from State Department experts and senior diplomats. Reuters also cited officials as saying the announcement is expected to be made as part of the department's annual Trafficking in Persons report.

The list, created through the Child Soldier Prevention Act, prohibits offending nations from receiving certain kinds of U.S. military aid.

In response, Human Rights Watch on Monday called on Tillerson to keep Myanmar and Iraq on the list.

Taking Burma and Iraq off the list "when they continue to use child soldiers, is both contrary to U.S. law and harms children still in the ranks," said Jo Becker, HRW's children's rights advocacy director. Becker also said that unless Tillerson reverses his decision, he will "gravely damage U.S. credibility in ending the use of children in warfare."

Myanmar has been on the list since its inception. Despite recent efforts to reduce recruitment, the country has yet to pass a law to criminalize the use of child soldiers and has refused to give U.N. observers access to ethnic armed groups.

"This isn't the time to let Burma [Myanmar] off the hook for its use of child soldiers," said Becker. "U.S. and U.N. pressure has led to important progress, but as long as children are still being recruited and found in its army's ranks, Burma should stay on the list."

Iraq was added in 2016. That year, HRW reported that government-backed tribal militias were recruiting children from displaced persons camps in Iraq in the fight against Islamic State. Despite Iraq being on the list, then-U.S. President Barack Obama issued a waiver to allow $3 billion in military aid to flow into that country last year.

"The Child Soldiers Prevention Act gives the president some discretion in applying sanctions against countries using child soldiers, but it doesn't give the State Department discretion to take off countries that belong on the list," Becker said. "Tillerson should do what the law requires and return Burma and Iraq to the list."