More than 2,500 former child soldiers have been airlifted from volatile areas of southern Sudan to rehabilitation centers in a unique operation by the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), reported AFP Tuesday.
The boys, who have been demobilized from the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) in the southwestern Bahr el-Ghazal region, had last week gathered near airstrips to board transport planes operated by the UN World Food Program, said the agency.
"This is one of the largest ever airlift of its kind in the Sudanese war," said Martin Dawes, the head of communications and human rights promotion in Operation Lifeline Sudan (OLS), the UNICEF-led coalition of UN and other aid agencies.
The operation started on Friday and went on through the weekend. One aircraft was continuing with the airlift on Tuesday. Some children traveled to the reception centers by road, AFP added.
The boys, between the ages of eight and 18, will live in transit centers run by local and international aid agencies around the town of Rumbek, where they will receive basic education, vocational training, health care and psychosocial counseling for four to nine months, the agency added.
The children fall into two categories according to UNICEF: those who received military training but never fought, and those who lived through combat and other traumatic experiences.
According to UNICEF's report on Sudan for the year 2000, the agency made significant progress in 2000 toward initiating the process of demobilizing 9,000 child soldiers reportedly fighting or working with the rebel forces.
"Almost 500 children have left the SPLA this year and are now receiving an education and other assistance," said the report.
An estimated 38,000 children in south Sudan desperately need to be cared for at supplemental and therapeutic feeding centers, but due to a lack of funding, cease-fire violations, and inclement weather, the agency is reaching only 15,000 to 17,000 of these children, added the report - Albawaba.com
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