Darfur rebels, UN to sign deal to protect children

GENEVA (Reuters) – Rebels in Sudan’s Darfur region and the United Nations will sign a deal this week to protect children, an independent mediation group said yesterday, in a move that appears aimed at stopping the use of child soldiers.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue said Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF would sign the agreement in Geneva tomorrow.

UN officials have cited evidence that the JEM and other rebels and and pro-government groups recruited child soldiers in the conflict that flared in 2003 when mostly non-Arab insurgents revolted against the Khartoum government, seeking more autonomy.

“This is a very important and positive step. It is the result of more than a year’s worth of dialogue between the UN agencies and JEM, sponsored by the HD Centre,” the centre’s humanitarian adviser, Dennis McNamara, said in a statement.

The statement made no reference to recruitment of child soldiers but officials who asked not to be identified said one of the points of the deal was to stop this scourge in Darfur.

Under the accord, UNICEF will have unimpeded access to all JEM locations to verify compliance and UNICEF will work with all sides to help protect children from the conflict.

The deal is a rare piece of good news in the seven-year-old conflict in which UN officials say as many as 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been driven from their homes.

Fighting is continuing amid faltering peace talks.

The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue is an independent and neutral mediation group based in Geneva that tries to end armed conflict. Besides Sudan, it is active in the Philippines, Myanmar, Kenya and Somalia, among other conflicts.

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