April 15, 2015 / 5:47 PM / 4 years ago

Colombia urges FARC rebels to release 2,000 child soldiers

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The Colombian government has urged FARC rebels to keep their promise not to recruit child soldiers and release the estimated 2,000 underage fighters in their ranks.

Commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) said in February they would stop recruiting children younger than 17 in what was seen as a conciliatory step in peace talks between the leftist rebels and the government.

Negotiations to end a 50-year war have been taking place in Cuba’s capital, Havana, since October 2012.

“In my capacity as representative of all the boys, girls and adolescents of our country, I am calling on the FARC to immediately hand over all those minors who form part of their ranks and to stop recruiting in all parts of the country ... your announcements must be converted into action right now,” Cristina Plazas, head of Colombia’s child welfare agency (ICBF) said in a statement late on Tuesday.

Colombia’s military say intelligence reports show the rebels continue to recruit and train children in jungle camps.

The rebels have long been accused by human rights groups and the government of forcibly recruiting children or taking on underage volunteers in remote rural areas with few job opportunities in its war against the government.

The 8,000-strong FARC trains children to fight and use grenades and mortars, and to plant home-made landmines.

Children also take on the roles of messengers, informants and porters, while girls are used as sex slaves and undergo forced abortions, according to human rights groups.

The FARC on Tuesday reiterated its pledge to release child combatants but did not say when or where this would take place.

“We should not forget that besides taking children out of the war, they have to be taken out of misery, hunger ... In Colombia, more children die from malnutrition than because of the war ...” said FARC peace negotiator Jesus Santrich, reading a statement on Tuesday in Havana.

Since 1999, Colombia’s child welfare agency has looked after nearly 6,000 former child combatants, who either escaped from armed groups or were captured by government troops.

Reporting By Anastasia Moloney, Editing by Alex Whiting

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