AFRICA/BURUNDI - Great success for Catholic Action Peace March in Burundi. Since January 964 demobilised child soldiers have returned home

Monday, 3 May 2004

Bujumbura (Fides Service)- “We launched a clear signal for peace” Father Salvatore Niciteretse, from Burundi told Fides with regard to a peace march organised in April by the local national branch of Catholic Action Burundi. “Several personalities took part including members of parliament and the Minister for Sport in the event organised in the capital Bujumbura, on Sunday April 25 ” Father Salvatore told Fides. “We will continue to pray for peace in the month of May with the help of Mary our Mother ”.
Burundi is trying with fatigue to put behind it 11 years of civil war in which more than 300,000 people were killed. In the second half of April the National Liberation Forces FNL announced that they had ceased hostilities and were ready to talk with the government. The FNL is the only group of rebels which has yet to sign an agreement with the government. In 2003 the main rebel group Forces for Defence of Democracy, (FDD), signed a peace pact with the national unity government which entailed an immediate cessation of all hostilities between the FDD and the regular army. The FDD obtained vice-presidency and four ministries, 40% of army officer posts and 35% of police army posts.
Thanks to the peace agreement the demobilisation of child soldiers, recruited by all the warring parties, has started. According to Ms Desirée Gatoto who is directing the national demobilisation programme, since January, 964 child soldiers have been demobilised. Children were recruited and used by the regular army, a government militia called Youth Peace Guardians, and both the FNL and the FDD. Ms Desirée Gatoto said that Burundi has about 3,000 child soldiers. Although the FDD signed a peace agreement with the government it has not disarmed its troops. Mrs Gatoto says that on the contrary several armed groups continue to recruit soldiers and many are under 17 years of age.
Families with demobilised child soldiers receive 20,000 Burundi Franks (20 dollars) a month and the boys are offered the possibility of taking one of various technical training courses. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 3/5/2004, righe 33 parole 389)