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Report criticizes use of child soldiers

BOGOTA, April 4 (UPI) -- A coalition of non-governmental organizations called on the government of Colombia to do more to prevent armed groups from using children as soldiers.

The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said in a 60-page report the children are being recruited by guerrilla groups that are responding to the loss of "thousands of members in the attacks the government has launched against them," Colombia Reports said.

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The report said the government hasn't done enough to protect children from violence, particularly in remote areas the armed groups control.

The government is "absent or ignoring the horrific violations that occur and allow these armed agents to operate with impunity," the report said.

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"Levels of violence are incredibly high. Children are threatened on all sides and have nowhere to turn for help," researcher Yvonne Kemper said.

The report said Colombian armed forces did not recruit children as soldiers but exploited them by making them "informers or spies" to obtain information on guerrilla groups.

Representatives of NGOs interviewed in Colombia children ages 10-16 last year and said they found some had been child soldiers or victims of kidnapping, rape and torture. Researchers also spoke with relatives of the children as well as community leaders and Colombian authorities.

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"The protection of the rights of children in Colombia should be the basis on which to build true peace in the country," said Eva Smets, the director of the coalition of NGOs.

The report urged the U.N. Security Council, the United States and the European Union to take steps to help the children in Colombia.

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