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Mali: Islamists Should Free Child Soldiers

Source: Human Rights Watch

‘Sending our Innocents to be Slaughtered,’ Witness Says.

(Nairobi) – Islamist armed groups occupying northern Mali should immediately release all child soldiers within their ranks and end the military conscription and use ofthose under 18, Human Rights Watch said today. With France carrying out aerial bombardment since January 11, 2013, to block the Islamists from advancing farther south, Human Rights Watch also urged rebel groups to remove children immediately from training bases in or near Islamist military installations.

Witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch by phone since January 8 – when hostilities between the Islamist groups and Malian army intensified – described seeing many children, some as young as 12, taking active part in the fighting. Witnesses also said that children were staffing checkpoints in areas that have come under aerial bombardment by the French or are near active combat zones. The Islamic groups – Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – have recruited, trained, and used several hundred children in their forces since occupying Northern Mali in April 2012.

“These Islamist groups have no business recruiting children into their ranks, much less putting them on the front line,” said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “These groups seem to be willfully putting scores of children directly in harm’s way. Before the military campaign goes any further, the Islamists should release these children back to their families.”

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