NEW YORK, 22 December (Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary- General for Children and Armed Conflict) — Olara A. Otunnu, the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has congratulated the Colombian Army on discharging the final contingent of 950 soldiers under the age of 18.

I am very pleased that the government of President Andr s Pastrana has followed through on its commitment on this issue, said Mr. Otunnu, who visited Colombia in June. During that visit, the Pastrana government announced a new policy of not enlisting persons below the age of 18 in the Colombian National Army.

This is a very welcome example which I hope will be followed by other governments and armed groups who still recruit and deploy children in their ranks, Mr. Otunnu said. This step is particularly timely in view of the ongoing discussions on raising the international age limit for recruitment and participation in armed conflict, in the context of an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

At a ceremony at the Plaza de Bolivar in the Colombian capital, Bogot , on 20 December, ranks of teenaged former soldiers marched past President Pastrana, their military uniforms replaced by civilian suits.