LONDON, 19 June — Three Ugandan children who had been abducted from northern Uganda by Ugandan rebel groups have been released and handed over to the United Nations in Khartoum today.

At the conclusion of a three-day visit to the Sudan (14-17 June), Olara A. Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, expressed his deep appreciation to the Sudanese Government for facilitating the release of the children during his visit to the country. The three children have today been transported from the southern city of Juba to Khartoum, where they are now in the care of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), pending their return to Uganda in the next few days.

Mr. Otunnu announced that the Sudanese Government had made an important pledge to assist with ongoing efforts to obtain the release of children who have been abducted from northern Uganda by Ugandan rebel groups. He especially requested the Sudanese Government to use its influence to help trace and secure the release of girls abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army from St. Mary’s College, Aboke, in northern Uganda.

The Special Representative, who serves as an international advocate for children affected by armed conflict by promoting their rights, protection and welfare, visited the Sudan to assess first hand the impact of the protracted conflict on children. During his visit, he met with government leaders including:First Vice-President Ali Osman Mohamed Taha; Speaker of the National Assembly, Hassan Abdalla Al Turabi; Minister of External Relations, Mustafa Osman Ismail; Chairman of the Southern States Coordinating Council, Riak Machar; heads of United Nations agencies; international and local non- governmental organizations; and representatives of civil society. Mr. Otunnu also travelled to the southern city of Juba, where he visited camps for internally displaced populations.

In his discussions with the Government, Mr. Otunnu raised several specific issues concerning the rights, protection and welfare of children affected by the conflict in the Sudan. These discussions resulted in a number of commitments, including the following:

— Access to the Nuba mountains:In a recent discussion with Secretary- General Kofi Annan, the Sudanese Government promised to allow a United Nations humanitarian assessment mission to travel to held areas controlled by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army

— Recruitment and participation of children in hostilities:The Government of the Sudan reiterated its commitment, as a matter of policy and law, not to recruit or deploy children under the age of 18 years. Mr. Otunnu urged the Government to ensure that t

se of landmines:Mr. Otunnu expressed deep concern about the continued use of landmines in the Sudanese conflict. the Sudanese Government, which has signed the Ottawa Convention prohibiting the use of landmines, indicated that It would do everything to avoid deploying landmines. However, the Government insisted that this was a difficult issue because of the continuing use of landmines by other parties to the conflict and also the fact that several neighbouring countries had not signed the Ottawa Convention. the Special Representative promised to pursue this matter further with all the parties concerned.

— Collaboration with the Southern States Coordinating Council:In his discussions with the Chairman of the Council, Mr. Machar, Mr. Otunnu emphasized the importance of ensuring the protection, rights and welfare of children in activities under the Council

Observing the Convention on the rights of the child:Emphasizing the importance of the Convention in the context of his mandate, Mr. Otunnu urged the Sudanese Government to promote the application of the principles and provisions of the Convention. the Sudanese Government has signed and ratified the Convention and has also produced a national charter based on the Convention. this document, which is now in Arabic and English, is being translated into other local languages to Ensure wider dissemination in the country.

During his visit, Mr. Otunnu also learned about the emerging humanitarian emergency in the city of Wau in Bahr-al-Ghazal. In the course of the last few weeks, an influx of some 80,000 people, predominantly women and young children, have trekked into the city of Wau from SPLA-held areas. It is now estimated that this influx is occurring at the rate of 1,000 a day. Mr. Otunnu appealed to the international community to reinforce the capacities of the Government and international humanitarian agencies to respond to this situation, especially with the provision of food, medicine and logistical support.

The Special Representative stated that during this trip he was not able to visit SPLA-controlled areas of the Sudan because of time constraints. However, he met with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement’s leadership in Nairobi, Kenya, where he announced that he plans to visit those areas soon.