World News

Ex-Congo child soldier apologizes at U.N. for 1990s killings

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - A former child soldier from Democratic Republic of Congo told the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday he was sorry for the harm he caused after he was forcefully recruited from his school by an armed group at age 12.

“We killed, we looted,” said Junior Nzita Nsuami, now 30. “We transported cases of ammunition, we walked thousands of kilometers with just one belief - we must fire on everything that moves out of fear that we will be fired upon.”

Nsuami, who lives in Kinshasa, told a meeting on children and armed conflict that he had been recruited in eastern Congo by the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo (AFDL) and fought with the group for three years in the 1990s.

“Our recruiters succeeded in awakening in us the animal instinct that was slumbering there. In magic ceremonies they convinced us that we were invincible, but the reality always showed us that the opposite was true,” he said.

Nsuami - now a U.N. goodwill ambassador on the prevention of child soldier recruitment in Congo - said the hardest part was seeing other children play while he was standing guard, asking himself: “Oh God what did I do so that I can’t be like them.”

Millions have died of hunger and disease during two decades of conflict in Congo’s resource-rich east and the region remains plagued by armed factions.

Leila Zerrougui, the U.N.’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said that globally in 2015 armed groups rather than government forces pose the biggest challenge for their brutality and violence toward children.

She said armed groups represent 51 of the 59 parties listed by the United Nations for recruiting children were armed groups.

“Increasingly, children are snatched from a normal life of school and family, abducted by armed groups and thrown into a life of violence and horror,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council.

“From north-eastern Nigeria, to Iraq, from South Sudan to Syria, we have witnessed a wave of such abductions used to terrorize and humiliate entire communities,” he said. “The children of the world should be students, not soldiers.”

U.S. Deputy U.N. Ambassador David Pressman said Nsuami’s organization, Paix Pour L’Enfance, provides support for marginalized children and helps reintegrate them into society. “Given the opportunity, he chose to make life better for others who have suffered what he has suffered,” Pressman said.

Editing by Grant McCool