The government of Burundi demobilised on Friday 29 child soldiers, who had served as porters in the country's regular army.
The children, aged 13 to 18 years, were demobilised at the paratroop barracks in the capital, Bujumbura, in the presences of representatives of the Ministry of Defence, the UN Children's Fund as well as those from the national Demobilisation, Reintegration and Prevention Project, which targets child soldiers.
Although the demobilised children served as porters, they also had the task of observing enemy movements, for which they earned the nickname "Doriya", which loosely translates as spy or sentry.
The head of the army's child soldier demobilisation programme, Desiree Gatoto, said the figures for child soldiers serving in combat units were not available. "If such children are identified, they will also be subject to demobilisation," she added.
The children will now be taken to their respective provinces where they will be handed over to their parents. The majority of the children come from Gitega, Karuzi, Kayanza and Ngozi areas.
Gatoto said the children would either resume school or be trained in different crafts if they so wished, with the support of the government's partner NGOs and focal points across the country's 17 provinces overseeing the rehabilitation of demobilised child soldiers.
Reporters were not allowed to interview or photograph the demobilised children. One of the child soldiers, reported to be from Kanyosha in the province of Bujumbura Rural, refused to go home.
Radio Burundi reported on Friday that a similar demobilisation operation took place in Karuzi with 22 child soldiers aged 11 to 18. The radio reported that each child received a demobilisation aid package comprising 20 kg of beans, 11 kg of rice, soap, clothes and oil before they were handed over to their parents.
On 26 January, a former rebel movement led by Jean Bosco Ndayikengurukiye became the first armed group to demobilise child soldiers.
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