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FARC starts child soldier demobilization

September 11, 2016

Colombia's FARC rebel group has handed over eight child soldiers to an international humanitarian body as part of a peace deal reached with the government last month. Further demobilizations are expected.

Kolumbien FARC Soldatinnen
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Abd

The child soldiers were the first to be demobilized since last month's historic peace deal between Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government to end a half century of fighting.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the minors underwent a health check and were transferred to the supervision of UNICEF, the UN children's fund.

"ICRC medical personnel who are part of the humanitarian mission verified that the minors were healthy enough to be transferred," the Red Cross said.

The FARC has used child soldiers in its ranks for decades. According to Colombia's top prosecutor, between 1975 and 2014 some 12,000 minors are estimated to have joined the group.

Government officials have put the current number of child soldiers in the rebel group at nearly 200.

Earlier this year, the FARC said it would increase the minimum age for recruits from 15 to 17. Then in May it agreed to let all minors under 18 leave its camps. However, that plan was delayed due to the ongoing peace talks at the time and concerns that child soldiers could reveal intelligence.

More minors are expected to be handed over in the coming weeks ahead of full demobilization as part of the peace plan reached after nearly four years of talks in Cuba.

Both sides of the conflict are expected to sign the deal later this month before a referendum on October 2. Two polls this week indicated strong support for the peace deal.

The peace deal envisions the FARC demobilizing and becoming a legal political party. It also addresses land reform, drug trafficking and a transitional justice system for crimes committed during the conflict.

The 52-year conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions.

cw/cmk (AFP, AP)