As further fighting in the Central African Republic (CAR) sparks fears of genocide, it’s emerged that more than 6,000 child soldiers may now be involved in the conflict.
Their numbers are growing as clashes between Muslim and Christian communities take on increasingly sectarian overtones.
More than 20 children aged between 14 and 17 were released from armed groups in the capital Bangui to a UNICEF-supported Transit and Orientation Centre, with more to follow.
A spokesperson for the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) explained: “Some of these children were in armed groups for a year, some for two years, some for less and they have been separated from their parents since. UNICEF is working towards reuniting these children with their families.”
Meanwhile, peace keepers from Rwanda flew into Bangui to oversee the selection of a transitional leader set to take place on Monday.
This follows the resignation of the country’s first Muslim president Michel Djotodia amid the violence between Muslim and Christian militia that has displaced over a million people.
The aid from the Rwandans is particularly significant: The international community wants to prevent the Central African Republic from becoming a repeat of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The former French colony descended into chaos after a mostly Muslim rebel coalition, Seleka, seized power in March, unleashing a wave of killings and looting that sparked revenge attacks by a Christian “anti-balaka” militia.