ILO in Talks with Kachins over Child Soldiers

By Lawi Weng 5 September 2012

The International Labor Organization (ILO) in Rangoon said on Tuesday that it is cooperating with both the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in working for the release of underage Burmese soldiers currently detained by the Kachin rebels.

The announcement comes just two days after the ILO confirmed that the Burmese army had itself released 42 underage soldiers.

Steve Marshall, the ILO liaison officer in Rangoon, told The Irrawaddy that his organization had received information about some 40 Burmese soldiers who were effectively being held as prisoners of war by the KIA.

“Some, we understand, are allegedly underage recruits or child soldiers,” he said. “We received some data [about those] people and we are now working with the government of Myanmar [Burma] to identity these kids and verify the situation, so we can actually negotiate their discharge.

“We have to work together with the government, with the KIA, and also with the society, so that these young people are able to return to their families, to be reintegrated into normal society.

“It is obviously a sensitive issue. I have to say that we are hopeful the government and the KIA will approve this on the basis of the rights of the child, and not look at the political method.”

KIA spokesman La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the Kachin army wished to release the detainees, and were cooperating. He said the KIA had already sent a list of names of detainees to the ILO.

It is believed the 40 detainees are currently being held in Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin rebels.

According to La Nan, some of the detainees are aged 15 or 16, while others are 19 to 20. He said that the ILO is free to ascertain who is underage when they visit the KIA headquarters.

The captives were seized by the Kachin rebels during various battles in Burma’s restive north. La Nan said the detainees fear returning to their families because they may be re-arrested by Burmese military officials.

The ILO has been working with the Burmese government on a joint UN task force—headed by UNICEF and including international NGOs World Vision and Save the Children—for the release and reintegration of child soldiers and the prevention of further recruitment.

Human rights groups including the UN have long accused both the Burmese armed forces and various ethnic rebel armies of recruiting underage soldiers during decades of civil war in the Southeast Asian nation.

Eight groups were singled out by the UN Secretary-General and accused of using child soldiers—the Burmese Army, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, the Kachin Independence Army, Karen National Liberation Army, Karen National Liberation Army-Peace Council, Karenni Army, Shan State Army-South, and the United Wa State Army.