U.N. gets reports of child soldiers with Syria rebels

UNITED NATIONS Mon Mar 26, 2012 1:52pm EDT

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syrian rebels fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad have been accused of using children as fighters in violation of international conventions banning the recruitment of child soldiers, a senior U.N. official said on Monday.

The U.N. concern about the possibility that Syria's opposition may be using child soldiers follows last week's report from the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch that armed Syrian opposition groups have kidnapped, tortured and executed members of supporters of Assad and members of his security forces.

"We are receiving allegations of children with the Free Syrian Army," Radhika Coomaraswamy, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, said in response to a question about Syria's rebels. She gave no details.

"We haven't been able to verify or check" the veracity of those allegations, Coomaraswamy added.

Earlier this month the International Criminal Court in The Hague convicted Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo of using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Coomaraswamy said on Monday that she welcomed that guilty verdict.

The main focus of her news conference was South Sudan, Africa's youngest country and a region that has long been a concern for those opposed to the use of child soldiers.

Coomaraswamy said was encouraging that the South Sudanese army, the SPLA, has released some 3,000 children from its ranks and expects to free another 2,000 in the near future.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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