Japanese government announce US $3.6 m for child soldiers

The Japanese government has announced a US $3.64 million emergency aid grant for the disarmament and reintegration of an estimated 15,000 Liberian child soldiers, according to a spokesman in the capital Monrovia on Monday.

Keitaro Sato, Japan's ambassador in charge of conflict and refugee-related issues in Africa, told IRIN that the grant was part of his country's overall humanitarian assistance for Liberia and would be channelled through the UN children's agency, (UNICEF).

"As part of our foreign policy in Africa, Japan has been alarmed by the grave humanitarian condition of Liberia and we would do our best in helping Liberia to recover from war," said Sato.

In addition to the grant for child soldiers, Sato said that US$ 1.64 million would be allocated for food aid for war-torn Liberia and a further US$ 1.5 million would also go towards assistance for the resettlement of Liberian refugees and internally displaced persons.

Earlier this month, UN officials announced that the repatriation of some 300, 000 Liberian refugees would begin with the end of the rainy season in October.

The head of UNICEF-Liberia, Angela Kearney, told reporters on Friday that UNICEF was working with other local and international organisations in opening interim care centres for disarmed Liberian child soldiers.

"UNICEF is looking at providing assistance in the areas of education and health to child soldiers and children associated with fighting forces in those centres so that the children can once again live better lives," she said.

Children, including teenage mothers, are among the fighters presently handing in weapons to UN peacekeepers since the resumption of the UNMIL disarmament program in mid-April.

UNICEF's International Goodwill Ambassador and Liberian soccer legend George Weah has called for the prosecution of leaders and commanders that recruited children in their ranks during the 14 years of bloody civil war.

"Those who gave children weapons to fight must be questioned and brought to justice, because it is against international law to give children arms to fight," Weah bluntly told reporters on Friday.

But the soccer legend's plea is in contradiction of the Liberian peace agreement signed in August 2003, which calls for a general amnesty for all persons and parties engaged in military activities during the civil war.

Instead, that agreement recommends the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

"A Truth and Reconciliation Commission shall be established to provide a forum that will address issues of impunity, as well as an opportunity for both the victims and perpetrators of human rights violations to share their experiences, in order to get a clear picture of the past to facilitate genuine healing and reconciliation," the agreement reads.