S. Sudan army to remove child soldiers from ranks

The South Sudanese army is set to remove all child soldiers from within its ranks following a report issued by the U.N. children's fund earlier this week

The South Sudanese army is set to remove all child soldiers from within its ranks following a report issued by the U.N. children's fund earlier this week

JUBA – The South Sudanese army is set to remove all child soldiers from within its ranks following a report issued by the U.N. children's fund (UNICEF) earlier this week that put the number of child soldiers deployed in the country's ongoing conflict at some 9000.

"As we had already a mechanism for monitoring and verification, the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) has taken serious note of the report," SPLA spokesman Col. Philip Aguer told reporters at a Friday press briefing at army headquarters in Juba.

"The SPLA's child protection unit will plan action to ensure that any number of children verified in the SPLA must be immediately immobilized, as per the orders of the SPLA chief of general staff," Aguer said.

"According to the UNICEF report, the SPLA is [in] charge of 249 child soldiers observed in Unity and Jonglei states during the months of December 2013 and April 2014," he added.

The spokesman briefed the press shortly after a meeting with UNICEF child protection officers, held to discuss the report's findings.

"Currently, the SPLA has been collaborating with UNICEF to implement a joint action plan to ensure that all the children that came to the SPLA through integration of other armed groups are demobilized," Aguer said.

"As a matter of policy, the SPLA since 2002 has adopted a policy of [having] a child-free army and demobilized all the children associated with the SPLA in a process witnessed by UNICEF and the [relevant] U.N. agencies," he said.

Aguer also refuted rebel claims that 12 Egyptian soldiers had been captured in Ayod in Jonglei states fighting alongside SPLA troops.

"This is just propaganda aimed at attracting unnecessary regional attention," he said.

"The SPLA is in control of Ayod. How can somebody capture an enemy when they aren't even in a location occupied by the enemy?" Aguer asked.

South Sudan has been shaken by violence since last December, when President Salva Kiir accused his sacked vice-president, Riek Machar, of trying to overthrow his regime.

The conflict has already claimed more than 10,000 lives, with the U.N. estimating that a million South Sudanese have been displaced by the violence.

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