Poses Challenge to International Community at Conclusion of Four-Day Visit to Country

(Reissued as received from the Office of the Special Representative. )

NEW YORK, 2 June — The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, has concluded a four-day visit to Sierra Leone (26-29 May) by challenging the international community to respond in a more vigorous and concerted fashion to the needs of children affected by the conflict in Sierra Leone.

During his visit, Mr. Otunnu met with the President of Sierra Leone, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah; the Commander of the Economic Community of West African States’ Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), Brigadier General Maxwell Khobe; the National Coordinator of the Civil Defence Forces (CDF) (Kamajors), Chief Hinga Norman; the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs; the Minister of Education; the Minister of Information; and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He also held discussions with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General; the heads of United Nations agencies, the Child Protection Committee, the Inter-Religious Council, parliamentarians, and international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Mr. Otunnu travelled to the eastern region of Sierra Leone, visiting the towns of Daru, Segbwema and Kenema, close to the areas where active fighting is still going on with the remnants of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) and the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). He also met with the regional commanders of ECOMOG and regional leaders of the CDF (Kamajors). Mr. Otunnu had the opportunity to witness for himself the terrible plight of internally displaced people, including hundreds of unaccompanied children who have recently emerged from the bush.

The Special Representative visited Connaught Hospital in Freetown, where he met with victims of recent atrocities, many of whose limbs have been cut off by AFRC/RUF fighters in the eastern and northern provinces. Mr. Otunnu said, “Suddenly, as if from nowhere, there is emerging in Sierra Leone a community of persons without limbs. I met a child victim of less than 10 years of age who recounted to me that, after cutting off his hands, the RUF fighters told him, ‘Go tell President Kabbah that we are still here. ‘”

Manifestations of Impact of War on Children

Throughout his visit and in all his discussions, it became clear that one of the most pressing challenges facing Sierra Leone today is the “crisis of the youth” — the plight of children affected directly and indirectly by the conflict. There are many serious manifestations of the impact of the prolonged conflict on the children; these include:street children, child combatants, displaced children, unaccompanied children, victims of atrocities, and the collapse of health and education services. It was also striking that so many people expressed their alarm at the rapid erosion of local value systems within the society, especially among the youth.

Areas for Urgent International Action

Mr. Otunnu has identified five areas requiring urgent action by the international community:the demobilization and reintegration of child combatants; the resettlement of internally displaced persons; the tracing of families of unaccompanied children; the rehabilitation and support of victims without limbs; and the provision and rehabilitation of medical and educational services.

Mr. Otunnu appealed for urgent international assistance specifically targeted to the victims of the recent atrocities, especially those who have lost their limbs. Approximately 300 victims of reprisals by AFRC/RUF fighters have been treated during the past month at Connaught Hospital in Freetown; this is estimated to constitute only a small proportion of those who have been maimed by the atrocities. The number of victims reporting to upcountry hospitals is still unknown, and a larger number of people are reported to have died or still suffering in the bush.

Immediate Needs for Relief Supplies

Mr. Otunnu also appealed for an immediate response to the needs of children in the eastern region, many of whom are unaccompanied and whose parents have either been killed, captured or have fled. Most reports indicate that more children are still hiding in the bush. Immediate relief supplies of food, medicine and clothing are needed to meet the basic needs of these children.

Commitments by Government and Its Partners

In discussion with government leaders, the leadership of ECOMOG and the leadership of CDF (Kamajors), Mr. Otunnu raised several specific issues.

These discussions resulted in a number of importantcommitments, including the following:

— Recruitment and demobilization of children:The CDF (Kamajors) have agreed to stop the recruitment and initiation of children under the age of 18, and to begin the process of demobilization of child combatants presently within their ranks.

Treatment of AFRC/RUF child combatants:both ECOMOG and the CDF (Kamajors) have agreed to provide Special protection to AFRC/RUF child combatants who come into their custody through surrender, capture or escape. there have been recent incidents of on-the-spot reprisals against such children.

— Joint task force for demobilization of child combatants:It was agreed that a joint task force be constituted, comprising of senior representatives from ECOMOG, the CDF (Kamajors), the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs and intern

— Recruitment and training of a new national army:The Government has announced plans for the establishment of a new national army. The recruitment and training of the new army have been entrusted to ECOMOG. In this context, the Government has agreed to s

Establishment of a coordination group:in order to realize a More coordinated and effective national response to the needs of children affected by conflict, President Kabbah has directed that a group be established, consisting of relevant Government ministries, United Nations agencies and NGOs to propose and coordinate actions in this area. Discussions are now under way on the Establishment of this group.

Parliamentarian caucus for children:following their discussion with Mr. Otunnu, An all-party group of parliamentarians has constituted a caucus to serve as parliamentary advocates for the rights, protection and Welfare of children affected by conflict in Sierra Leone.

At the conclusion of his visit, Mr. Otunnu urged the international community to make the rehabilitation of the children of Sierra Leone a pilot project for post-conflict reconstruction. He said, “The challenge of children in Sierra Leone is very serious, but not overwhelming. The situation can be turned around with carefully organized and targeted assistance. Providing new hope for the children of Sierra Leone may well be the best way to ensure national recovery for the country as a whole. The international community should move now. “Mr. Otunnu added that the restored democracy, as well as prospects for stability, could be seriously jeopardized if the international community adopts a wait-and-see attitude on Sierra Leone.