In Peace Step, Children Leave Rebel Camps in Colombia

Eight youths left FARC rebel camps in Colombia on Saturday, as the insurgents began relocating children and teenagers as part of a historic peace agreement, the Red Cross said Saturday.

The government of President Juan Manuel Santos and the Marxist guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country's largest rebel group, concluded a final peace accord last month to end a 52-year war. 

The hard-fought agreement took nearly four years of negotiations in Cuba.

As part of the agreement, both sides announced Tuesday the exit and transition plans for minors in FARC camps. It calls for the children to undergo a preliminary health examination and identification by the Red Cross and their transfer to a reception team from UNICEF, the UN children's fund.

"ICRC medical personnel who are part of the humanitarian mission verified that the minors were healthy enough to be transferred," the Red Cross said.

Without giving specific details about the children or where the transfer took place, the organization said that "boys, girls and adolescents" began to be moved to a temporary reception area, where a UNICEF team would begin the process of integrating them into Colombian society.

In February 2015, the FARC announced it was halting the recruitment of soldiers as young as 17 years old, and would raise the age to 18.

In May this year, the two sides announced the imminent departure of these minors from the camps, but the process foundered because of problems the rebel group saw with the plan's execution.

"The number depends on each camp," Colombia's high commissioner for peace Sergio Jaramillo said Friday. 

"They are going to gradually leave the camps in different regions of the country. It's not going to be all at once -- it is a process and this is the first phase."

Colombia's defense minister, Luis Carlos Villegas, said in May that about 170 minors had joined the FARC's ranks. At the time, the rebels had not indicated their own count of child soldiers.

In the past 14 years, about 4,500 minors from rebel groups have been demobilized, with 65 percent of them belonging to the FARC, according to official data.

The conflict with the FARC, which has drawn in various left- and right-wing rebel groups as well as criminal gangs over the decades, has killed 260,000 people and left 45,000 missing.

Colombians are set to vote on ratification of the peace plan in an October 2 referendum. Recent public opinion polls have shown a solid majority supporting the agreement.

Source: Agence France Presse

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