Children are drugged and convinced they have magic powers, terrifying the local communities, a UN report has found.
On Friday, the United Nations reported that rebel militias are exploiting child soldiers in horrific skirmishes in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
An estimated 850,000 children have been displaced by the fighting, UNICEF estimates.
“Children and women tell us of terrible acts of abuse. Many children have been recruited by armed forces, drugged and caught in the violence,” Unicef's regional director for West and Central Africa Marie-Pierre Poirier said Monday.
The local population of Kasai state has been displaced by armed militias, reportedly largely made up of children, who survivors say are “bewitched”. Refugees, interviewed in neighboring Angola, described rituals and sacrificial killings to OHCHR investigators. It is not the first time children have been used in the conflicts raging in and around the central African nation.
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Since the Democratic Republic of Congo achieved independence from colonial Belgium rule in the 1960s, the resource-rich country has struggled for stability.
It is one of the largest and most populated countries on the planet, and is bordered by a number of states that have proved less than stable over the years – like the Central African Republic, Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda.
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DRC’s current ruler, president Joseph Kabila, inherited the presidency after his father Laurent-Désiré Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards in 2001.
The first Kabila came to power in 1997 when he led a Tutsi-backed army and ended the 32-year reign of Mobutu Sese Seko.
But as many as six million people died in the subsequent fighting, which involved nine neighboring nations. The hideously complicated patchwork of alliances, both national and local, meant villages were attacked repeatedly by different militias.
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In 2003, an internationally brokered peace accord brought some stability back. Under the terms of that agreement, Kabila’s second term should have been his last — and elections should have been held in 2016.
Despite that, Kabila remained in power, stoking discontent, with control over the fragmented country faltering.
In particular, many of the militias from the last conflict never disbanded, but continue to operate in the east — far from the capital, Kinshasa — ostensibly to protect villages, but in reality extracting bribes and attacking locals. But the latest bout of violence in the central Kasai state upsets this status quo.
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