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More child soldiers in the Central African Republic

The UN children's agency, UNICEF, has said it's concerned government and rebel forces are recruiting child soldiers in the Central African Republic. The country has been embroiled in internal conflict for over a month.

UNICEF said Friday it has received "credible reports that rebel groups and pro-government militias are increasingly recruiting and involving children in armed conflict."

Rebel groups and pro-government militias are more actively recruiting children in the capital city of Bangui and across the country, said the UNICEF representative in the Central African Republic, Soulemane Diabate.

Rebel forces, known as Seleka, have been advancing from the north of the country since an offensive was launched in December. The rebels accuse President Francois Bozize of reneging on a previous peace deal and want him to step down from power.

UNICEF estimates even before the current violence began, some 2,500 children were part of armed groups within the Central African Republic. That number, which the organization said is difficult to determine, is believed to have increased since the conflict's escalation.

Children who have become separated from their families during the conflict are at the greatest risk, said Diabate.

The unrest has already affected over 300,000 children across the country through recruitment, family separation, sexual violence and forced displacement, which cut them off from schools and health services, UNICEF said.

dr/ch  (dpa, AP)