Hundreds of children feared snatched in South Sudan
02 March 2015, 09:21
Nairobi - Unicef, the UN children's agency, said on Sunday it feared that hundreds of boys were kidnapped last month in the northeast of South Sudan, raising suspicions that the abductors were from a pro-government militia.
Unicef estimated last week that 89 boys, some as young as 13, were abducted by an armed group in Wau Shilluk, a riverside town in government-held territory within oil-rich Upper Nile state.
"The organisation now believes the number of children may be in the hundreds," Unicef said in a statement.
It added that the suspected kidnappers were from a "militia... aligned with the government's SPLA forces."
Witnesses to the mass abduction on 15 and 16 February said that unidentified armed soldiers had surrounded the community and went house to house taking away by force any boys thought to be over the age of 12.
"The recruitment and use of children by armed forces destroys families and communities," Jonathan Veitch, the head of Unicef in South Sudan, said when the kidnappings were first reported.
Also read: UNICEF: 89 boys abducted by South Sudan armed group
Unicef estimates there are at least 12 000 children used by both sides in South Sudan's ongoing civil war.
South Sudan plunged into violence in December 2013 when fighting erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels led by his rival, former vice president Riek Machar.
Each side has accused the other of forcibly recruiting child soldiers.
The president's spokesperson Ateny Wek Ateny had strongly condemned last month's kidnappings, saying: "The government of South Sudan will not tolerate the use of our children for violence."
"This is the equivalent to the Boko Haram of South Sudan," he said, referring to the Islamist extremist group behind an insurgency in northern Nigeria that has abducted boys and girls.
But after two weeks of inquiries, Unicef said it believed that government-aligned militia chief Johnson Olony, who controls the area and has been accused in the past by Human Rights Watch of using child soldiers, was responsible for the kidnappings.