Human Rights Watch slams use of child soldiers in Yemen

HUMAN Rights Watch slammed the use of child soldiers in a Yemeni army division which has sided with anti-regime demonstrators in a crisis that has cost more than 125 lives.

“Child soldiers recruited by the Yemeni army are now being used by a breakaway unit to protect anti-government protesters,” the New York-based HRW said in a statement today.

It said HRW workers had come across “dozens of armed soldiers who appeared to be younger than 18 years old” in Sanaa since the often violent protests against President Ali Abdullah Saleh erupted in late January.

Twenty of them, who gave their ages as between 14 and 16, told HRW they had served for up to two years in a division under the command of top military defector General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

Before the anti-regime protests, they had been recruited to fight Shi’ite rebels in northern Yemen.

“The Yemeni government has for too long placed children at grave risk by deploying child soldiers on the field of battle,” said Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director of HRW.

“President Saleh’s opponents should not perpetuate the problem by using children for security on the field of protest,” he said in the statement.

HRW urged the United States “to suspend military assistance to Yemen immediately unless the Yemeni government agrees to negotiate an action plan with the United Nations to end the use of child soldiers”.

More than 125 people have been killed during the past 10 weeks in clashes between anti-Saleh protesters and security forces loyal to the veteran president.

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