Child soldiers in southern Sudan drop guns for school bags

Child soldiers in southern Sudan drop guns for school bags

Associated Press Writer

 MALOU, Sudan (AP) -- Jumping for joy, the tall, skinny
15-year-old rushed to scoop up his new school bag. He had just been
transformed from a rebel soldier into a schoolkid.


Child soldiers of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army wait for their
commander at a demobilization ceremony at their barracks in Malou, Southern
Sudan Sunday, Feb.25, 2001. Under an agreement with U.N. Children's Fund,
the SPLA has demobilized 2,500 child soldiers aged between eight and 18.(AP)

I am happy today, and if my parents were alive, they would be
happy to see me getting an education," said Paulina Kwol who has
fought with the Sudan People's Liberation Army since he was 10.

In a weekend ceremony, Kwol and 244 other child soldiers dressed
in military uniforms, marched and sang at this SPLA camp in
southern Sudan before being turned over to the United Nations
Children's Fund, or UNICEF.

Child soldiers of the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army march away after
surrendering thier weapons during a demobilization ceremony at the army
barracks in Malou, southern Sudan, Sunday, Feb. 25, 2001. Under an agreement
with U.N Children's Fund, the SPLA has demobilized 2,500 child soldiers aged
between eight and 18. UNICEF airlifted the youngsters away from combat zones
to safer areas where they will attend school. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

Laying down their weapons, they slipped out of the uniforms into
their tattered civilian clothes and lunged at the school bags
filled with ball point pens and paper, needles and thread and a
T-shirt and shorts.

"If you look here, you will see children in uniform, children
who know how to drill, children who are not afraid of handling
guns. This is an army, this is no place for a child." said Martin
Dawes, a UNICEF spokesman.

The SPLA, which has fought since 1983 to try to win autonomy for
the largely Christian southern Sudan from the Muslim Arab north,
agreed to a request in October by UNICEF head Carol Bellamy to
muster the youngsters out of the rebel camps and put them in

"We are happy because we are sending these children to areas
out of danger," SPLA commander Majak D'Agot told the departing
child soldiers. "But we are sad because the lives of some young
children like you have been destroyed by war. We pray that you will
prosper and that you will not die young."


Excited young Sudanese boys peer out of the window of a U.N. aircraft on
their way to a new home in Rumbek in southern Sudan Saturday, Feb. 24, 2001,
after being demobilized from rebel camps of the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
The U.N. Children's Fund, UNICEF, said Tuesday, Feb.27, 2001, that it had flown
2,500 former children soldiers to relative safety and a possibility to have
schooling in the unprecedented airlift. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)

On Tuesday, UNICEF announced it had completed the evacuation of
2,500 demobilized child soldiers like Kwol from combat zones to
safe areas to attend school and begin the search for lost families.

"There's a growing recognition worldwide that children should
not be in combat zones," Bellamy, the UNICEF head, said Tuesday in
Geneva. "But 300,000 (worldwide) are still being used as soldiers,

porters and sex slaves. Only a global movement can make this

SPLA officials said thousands of youngsters were housed in their
camps after losing their parents in the war or after being
kidnapped into slavery, but only about 5 percent took part in

"I hated marching to the front line," said Kwol, who hopes to
become a Roman Catholic priest. "I love God. He created us, heaven
and earth. ... I don't understand politics. Had my parents not been
killed, I would not have known what it means to be a soldier."

But Bak Turjong, 12, wants to return to the rebel army.

"I want to go to school and then go back to the army because my
parents were killed. I want to retaliate," said Turjong who fought
with the SPLA since he was 10.