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Our Children: Rwandan boys and girls lured away from homes with promises of cash, jobs, education

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
October 6th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Like the villains in storybooks of yore, Rwandan boys - and some girls, were lured away from their homes with promises of money, jobs and school. Some were led to believe that they were going into the Rwandan army. They were abducted and sent to fight in the Congo insurgency instead. The United Nations is only now getting to the bottom of this miscarriage of justice from the testimony of refugees.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - According to the U.N., a third of child soldiers that escaped from Congolese rebel group M23 came from Rwanda. Some of the M23 child soldiers received training from the Rwandan Defense Force for two weeks before being handed over to the rebel group.

U.N. experts have repeatedly accused Rwanda of backing the 18-month-long M23 insurgency in eastern Congo, a charge the Rwandan government has fiercely rejected. The conflict stretches all the way back to the Tutsi-dominated rebellion and 1994 genocide in Rwanda, where Hutu troops killed 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Congo, known as MONUSCO - has since interviewed 117 boys who were recruited by M23 and found 37 of them were from Rwanda.

MONUSCO's chief of child protection Dee Brillenburg Wurth says that there are still a couple of hundred children among the M23 ranks, saying that four of the boys claim they received military training by the Rwandan Defense Force in Rwanda at camps in Bigogwe, Ruhengeri-Nyarubanda and at the former university campus in Mundende before they were handed over to M23.

"(They were given) very, very sophisticated training, very serious training, some of them by Rwandans. They said some of the trainers had Rwandan uniforms on," Brillenburg Wurth said.

"Some of (the children) thought they were being recruited in the Rwandan Defense Force and they were trained in Rwanda and then they found themselves ... in Congo," she said.

The ages of the child soldiers ranged from 11 to 17 and most were aged 15, 16 or 17. Some children said they had been recruited by a football coach and a police officer, who were earning $5 per child.

The United States, which has called on Rwanda to drop its support for the M23 rebels, stepped up its pressure on Kigali last week by moving to block military aid over the recruitment of M23 child soldiers in its territory.

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