BANGKOK (AFP) — An ethnic rebel group waging a decades-long uprising against Myanmar's military regime on Sunday denied a United Nations report saying it recruited child soldiers.
The Karen National Union (KNU), which has battled the government for 57 years in one of the world's longest-running insurgencies, said it had banned the presence of children under 18 in its ranks in 2003.
"Some parts of the (UN Secretary General's) current report, based on data collected in 2005, is no longer relevant," a KNU statement said.
"Accordingly, the KNU and KNLA (Karen National Liberation Army) are no longer involved in the use of child soldiers and violations of child rights."
In a statement released Friday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that both the military government and rebel groups continued to violate children's rights by recruiting underage soldiers.
Citing a recent UN report, he said that the government was picking up street children or those without national identity cards and offering them the choice of arrest or joining the army.
"Also of grave concern are the reliable reports of a number of incarcerated children/minors who have been convicted of desertion and sentenced to prison terms of up to five years," Ban said in the statement.
Myanmar's military government officially denies using child soldiers and has passed a law to outlaw the practice.
But human rights groups say child soldiers in Myanmar remain alarmingly common, with boys as young as 12 recruited to fight the ethnic rebel armies in the country's border regions.
The KNU is the largest rebel group fighting Myanmar's army and one of the few remaining insurgent groups yet to sign a peace deal with the junta.
The group once controlled broad swathes of eastern Myanmar but now is reduced mainly to a string of bases pressed against the Thai border. Thousands of Karen civilians flee the fighting and cross to Thailand every year.
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