UNITED NATIONS, New York, 5 May 2000

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara A. Otunnu, has welcomed the statement by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that it would demobilize young fighters under the age of 15 and return them to their homes.

When I visited Colombia last year, I urged the FARC to refrain from all recruitment and use of children in hostilities. At that time, the FARC leadership made a commitment that they would no longer accept or recruit young persons under 15; the FARC subsequently issued a public communiqu confirming this undertaking. Moreover, the FARC expressed an openness to explore with the United Nations and relevant non-governmental organisations a process and framework for the demobilisation, social reintegration and rehabilitation of all combatants under 15 still under arms, said Mr. Otunnu.

The Special Representative’s comments followed the publication in the Colombian press of an interview with FARC Deputy Commander Jorge Brice o “Mono Jojoy”, in which he said that the rebel group had “committed an error” in recruiting minors under 15 and that the guerrilla leadership had repudiated the practice as a violation of its own standards.

In light of the acknowledgement by the FARC leadership that the presence of under-age combatants within their ranks has been detrimental to both the children and the FARC’s own political and military objectives, I now urge the group to work with the UN and NGOs to establish programmes for the swift demobilization of these children, their reunification with their families and their reintegration into their communities in a secure environment. The FARC’s pronouncement must be borne out by concrete action on the ground and progress toward the full demobilization of children should be verifiable.

The Special Representative also urged the FARC to extend its policy on the demobilisation of under-age combatants to all those under 18 currently within its ranks.

I reiterate my earlier call to the FARC to join in the new international consensus, reached recently in Geneva and embodied in a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to raise the age of recruitment and participation in armed conflict from 15 to 18. The FARC leadership should adopt age 18 as its own internal minimum age for recruitment and deployment, Mr. Otunnu added.

The Special Representative condemned the practice of kidnapping persons for political or financial purposes. More than 200 children have been kidnapped in the past year, including a 9-year-old peace activist, Dagoberto Ospina, who was snatched from his school bus on 25 April near Cali.

Hostage-taking as a means of conducting political struggle or as a fund-raising tactic is completely unacceptable to the international community. This act terrorizes communities and irreparably stigmatizes the kidnappers’ causes, Mr. Otunnu added.