Around 135 rebels captured when they attacked the Chadian capital N’djamena in early February were displayed by Chadian police on 13 February, some of whom were identified as children.
"Among these prisoners there are minors,” Interior Minister Ahmat Mahamat Bachir, said during a press conference.
He added that the children cannot be released at the moment. “These young people have embarked on this path [of being child combatants] so you cannot return them to their villages yet. They need to be re-educated to change their way of thinking.”
IRIN contacted the UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) in N’djamena for comment but a spokeswoman said the agency’s staff members were only beginning to return to the city having been evacuated earlier in the month during the fighting.
“All I can say for now is that if it involves children then UNICEF is also going to be involved,” Cifora Monier, the spokeswoman, said.
Chad's government has also recruited children into its ranks, according to UNICEF and human rights groups. In recent months, Chadians say the army has been forcibly recruiting men and boys in N'djamena and other towns, giving them minimal training before shipping them out to fronts in the east. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=75879
In December 2007, UNICEF told IRIN that one of its programmes to demobilise child soldiers from the Chadian army had been cancelled by the government. http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=76001
Chad’s interior minister said security forces are continuing to look for rebels and their accomplices in N’djamena who are still in hiding. “We will continue the house-to-house searches and find those mercenaries," he said.
His key message was not about the use of child soldiers in the country's brutal fighting, but that many of the prisoners were from Sudan. Many, he said, are "radical Muslims".
“Our defence forces captured all of these Islamic mercenaries in the pay of Sudan. You have identity cards… Some are from Islamic groups; some are from Al Qaeda,” he said.
"They were sent by [Sudan’s President] Umar Al-Bashir [and] al Qaeda not only to destabilise Chad but the whole of Africa," he said.
Sudan’s government has denied that it is backing the rebels in Chad or that it is in league with al Qaeda.
Regarding widespread reports that Chad’s government had recently rounded up political opponents who have since disappeared, the minister said a judicial inquiry into the matter began on 12 February.
France, the former colonial power in Chad, had recently called for clarification of the whereabouts of the politicians.
The minister said it was “already clear” that the rebels, not the government, were responsible for the opposition leaders disappearing. "These people were arrested when their homes were under the control of mercenaries. We only learned of their arrests on the radio,” he said.
“It is not known if they were arrested [by the rebels] or if they are hidden somewhere [with the rebels]," he said.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
Help us be the transformation we’d like to see in the news industry
The current journalistic model is broken: Audiences are demanding that the hierarchical, elite-led system of news-gathering and presentation be dismantled in favour of a more inclusive and holistic model based on more equitable access to information and more nuanced and diverse narratives.
The business model is also broken, with many media going bankrupt during the pandemic – despite their information being more valuable than ever – because of a dependence on advertisers.
Finally, exploitative and extractive practices have long been commonplace in media and other businesses.
We think there is a better way. We want to build something different.
Our new five-year strategy outlines how we will do so. It is an ambitious vision to become a transformative newsroom – and one that we need your support to achieve.
Become a member of The New Humanitarian by making a regular contribution to our work - and help us deliver on our new strategy.