More than 300 child soldiers released in South Sudan

South Sudanese fleeing an attack on the town of Rank rest upon arrival at a border gate in Joda along the Sudanese border. Reuters file

South Sudanese fleeing an attack on the town of Rank rest upon arrival at a border gate in Joda along the Sudanese border. Reuters file

"Children should not be carrying guns and killing each other. It is vital that they receive the support they need to rejoin their communities and that they are welcomed home by family and friends without any sense of stigma".

During the ceremony, the children were symbolically disarmed and given civilian clothing.

"They told me to go near the road and if I heard the sound of a vehicle coming, I went and reported it. They should be playing, learning, having fun with friends, protected and cherished by the adults around them", Shearer said. "It is the largest release of children in almost three years and it is vital that negotiations continue so there are many more days like this".

The move was hailed as an important first move towards the release of tens of thousands of child soldiers believed to be fighting in the country's civil war.

The children will have counselling support as part of the reintegration programme.

A total of 700 children, including 220 girls, have been screened and registered for release in phases - 563 from the South Sudan National Liberation Movement and 137 associated with the Sudan People's Liberation Army In-Opposition. Over 19,000 children are thought to have been recruited by all sides.

The Special Envoy of the United Kingdom to Sudan and South Sudan, Christopher Trott said for punishment against violators of South Sudan peace to be successful, there is need for regional support.

South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to fighting between mostly Dinka ethnic soldiers loyal to Kiir against Machar's Nuer ethnic group.

Since the conflict began, 17,000 child soldiers have been conscripted into the conflict, UNICEF reported in March 2017. "It is the largest release of children in almost three years and it is vital that negotiations continue so there are many more days like this".

South Sudan is committed to robust bilateral cooperation with the United States despite the arms embargo imposed by Washington recently, a government official said on Thursday.

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