More than 80 child soldiers, some as young as eight, have been freed from a militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN said yesterday.
The children, aged up to 17, were said to have been forcibly recruited by rebels in the south of the war-torn country.
They were released after negotiations between the UN and militia groups operating in the province of Katanga. A UN spokesman said the children had been identified then separated from militia "through concerted efforts" of child-protection agencies.
The recruitment of child soldiers, particularly those under the age of 15, could be seen as a war crime, and those responsible must be held to account, the UN said.
The UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Monusco), said 40 of the children had been reunited with their families, and the remainder were receiving care. Martin Kobler, the head of Monusco, said: "We are extremely concerned by continued reports of active recruitment by armed groups in eastern DRC. Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes."
Since the start of the year, 163 children have been freed through the combined efforts of Monusco and child-protection agencies in the province, Mr Kobler said.
The cobalt and copper-rich region was one of the country's most stable until last year, when the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga (Secede Katanga) began its attacks. The increasingly violent methods of the separatist group have done little to gain civilian support.