‘Claimed to be 20, looked 16’

‘On Saturday, along the road between Goma and Kibumba, soldiers brought up two young men, both defectors from M23. One, who claimed to be 20, looked 16.
‘ “You are good boys. You have made a good decision to come,” General Bahuma told them as they stared on, sullen. “You should fight for your country.”’

gomaThus reported Nicholas Kulish toward the end of today’s front-page New York Times story, “A Reason for Hope in Congo’s Perpetual War.” The story told of apparent progress in efforts to quell years-old rebellion in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo – efforts including strengthened U.N. peacekeeping and increased disciplining of Congolese army troops. (map credit) The targeted rebels belong to M23, the armed group formed last year by mutineers from among the national army’s ranks.

M23 is alleged to recruit child soldiers. (Indeed, its onetime leader, Bosco Ntaganda, who surrendered to the International Criminal Court several months ago, faces trial on that very charge, relating to activities several years earlier.) The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a state party to the 2000 Optional Protocol pledging to outlaw recruitment under age 18, and has signed a U.N. action plan to end recruitment and use of children. President Barack Obama recently determined that the country was eligible for a waiver of aid restrictions applicable under the U.S. Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008.

With regard to the rebels, Kulish wrote, referring to an October 3 announcement by the State Department:

‘The United States cut off military aid to Rwanda this month over its alleged support for M23, which is believed to use child soldiers and depend heavily on Rwanda for supplies.’

That observation invites a rereading of the article’s 1st-quoted statement, that one of the “defectors … looked 16”: reportedly welcoming him back to combat was a general of the Congolese national army.

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