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In Colombia, ICRC receives children conscripted by FARC rebels

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have turned over several conscripted children to the Red Cross. FARC has begun releasing children from its military ranks as part of a landmark peace deal with the government.

Facing an April 1 deadline, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have released the first group of children who had been conscripted to fight as soldiers, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) announced on Saturday.

The ICRC reported that "various boys and girls" were in transit from FARC disarmament zones to a center run by the international children's agency UNICEF. Neither the ICRC nor FARC would say how many children the group had released, but local media sources reported that it was about seven.

"This first release of 2017 represents a significant step for solidifying that to which the parties had agreed," said Christoph Harnisch, the chief of the ICRC's regional delegation, adding that the children would be evaluated medically. Harnisch said the ICRC would "continue facilitating operations similar to the ones that will take place in the next weeks."

FARC's forced conscription of children had proved one of the thorniest issues in four years of peace talks with Colombia's government. In November, those negotiations yielded an accord to end half a century of conflict that has killed more than 260,000 people and left 60,000 missing.

Watch video 00:29

Colombian FARC rebels begin disarming process

Conditions for peace

Under the deal, FARC must release all of the dozens of conscripted children younger than 15. But that process had run behind schedule. Until Saturday's larger release, just 13 children had returned to civilian life, according to the government.

The FARC has gathered atzones designated for demobilization (photo). Under UN supervision,  on Wednesday the group's 7,000 members began turning over their weapons, a process that should last until June.

The government continues to hold separate talks with Colombia's last active rebel group: the National Liberation Army.

mkg/jm (EFE, AFP, dpa)

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