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Child soldiers in Ivory Coast

June 6, 2012

Human Rights Watch has reported that militias and mercenaries loyal to the former Ivorian president are recruiting Liberian child soldiers. The armed groups are trying to destabilize the government of Alassane Ouattara.

A United Nations soldier from Morocco stands guard at the entrance to the Catholic Mission, which serves as a camp for thousands of Ivorians displaced by ethnic and political clashes during the nation's six-month political stand-off, in Duekoue, in western Ivory Coast, Monday, May 30, 2011.
Image: AP

Armed militias loyal to the former Ivorian president are recruiting child soldiers in Liberia and launching cross-border raids into Ivory Coast, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday.

Militias loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo fled to Liberia after United Nations and French forces intervened in April 2011 to end post-election in Ivory Coast. The former president had refused to leave office, despite losing a November 2010 election to rival Alassane Ouattara.

Gbagbo has been extradited to the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of war crimes. Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian militias loyal to him allegedly committed ethnically motivated massacres of civilians. Some 3,000 people died in the six-months of post-election violence.

Forces loyal to Gbagbo have launched four cross-border raids into the Ivory Coast, targeting villages and ethnic groups loyal to President Ouattara, according to HRW. Around 40 people have been killed in the violence. The last raid occurred in late April against the village of Sakre in the francophone West African nation's southwest, killing seven people.

"Armed militants hostile to the Ivorian government have recruited Liberian children and carried out deadly cross-border raids on Ivorian villages in recent months," the New York-based rights watchdog said in its report.

The militias have been recruiting child soldiers as young as 14 and are reportedly receiving money from Gbagbo loyalists in Ghana and mining interests in Liberia. HRW identified 100-150 combatants who had participated in the raids, but said the actual number could be higher.

Militiamen released from custody

Scores of mercenaries and militiamen loyal to Gbagbo fled for Liberia and set up base there. Although many were initially detained by Liberian authorities, most were subsequently released. Of the 88 suspected fighters detained in Liberia in April 2011, all but five were eventually freed.

"Rather than uphold its responsibility to prosecute or extradite those involved in international crimes, Liberian authorities have stood by as many of these same people recruit child soldiers and carry out deadly cross-border attacks," said Matt Wells, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, center, and security guards are seen as Gbagbo appears for the first time at the International Criminal Court to face charges of crimes against humanity in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011.
Gbagbo was extradited to The Hague for war crimesImage: dapd

HRW reported that 76 Ivorians and Liberians were detained as they attempted to cross the border in Ivory Coast in January, but were later released from custody.

"We have guns … and other support that will help facilitate this process - businesses are established and the supply line is stronger than ever before," said one Gbagbo loyalist in an interview with HRW. "Let no one fool you that the war is over in Ivory Coast."

Although Liberian authorities did not immediately respond to the report, Ivorian Deputy Defense Minister Paul Koffi Koffi said his government was co-operating with the Liberians to prevent future attacks.

"We are working with the Liberians and we have reinforced patrols along the border," Koffi Koffi said.

slk/sej (AP, AFP, dpa)