311 child soldiers freed in S

South Sudan

Last week, South Sudan recalled its ambassador to the United States, a day after the American government imposed an arms embargo on the strife-torn east African nation.

"This is the first time so many young women have been involved in a release like this in South Sudan", said David Shearer, the UN's secretary general's special representative and head of UNMISS. "They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them".

The South Sudan National Liberation Movement released 215 children, with the remaining 96 freed by the Sudan People's Liberation Army. In the past, nearly 2,000 child soldiers have been rehabilitated and released - more than 10 percent of whom were under 13 years old.

Three hundred and eleven children had a ceremony today to mark their release, where they were disarmed and are to get medical screenings and counselling.

The move was hailed as an important first move towards the release of tens of thousands of child soldiers believed to be fighting in the country's civil war.

An additional 389 children remain in the program, still undergoing rehabilitation.

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Those with relatives in the area will be reunited with their families, while others will be placed in interim care centres until their families can be traced. Many child soldiers remain active throughout the country.

"What we are looking to IGAD to do is to say to us how they feel we might most effectively tackle spoilers, and we are quite happy to follow that lead including with action in the Security Council", Ambassador Trott said.

The Shearer-led United Nations mission has been leading the project to release the children for more than six months, including providing peacekeeping troops to escort religious leaders into remote bush areas to make contact and negotiate with the armed groups.

"They will have endured suffering, including sexual abuse".

A 2015 peace agreement to end the violence was violated in July 2016 when the rival factions resumed fighting in the capital, forcing Machar to flee into exile. UNICEF will continue to work with all parties to the conflict, as well as UNMISS, to secure the future release and reintegration of all children associated with armed groups through a meticulous process of negotiation, verification and registration.

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