United Nations (UN) officials, peacekeeping forces and residents reported that government armed forces continued to recruit young Liberians from refugee camps in the western part of the country.98 Human Rights Watch (HRW) also documented cases of Liberian mercenaries, including child soldiers, being recruited by the government of Côte d’Ivoire in refugee camps and transit centres in Abidjan or Nicla peace camp. There were also reports of recruitment in Liberia (Tobli) and even in Ghana. Most Liberian mercenaries belonged to the two main armed opposition groups in Liberia: the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), and the Movement for Democracy in Liberia (MODEL).99 In many cases, child soldiers were allowed to loot in lieu of payment or promised salaries and arms and an agreement that once successful in their mission they could retain their weapons and return to fight in Liberia.100 Some 3,000 young recruits, many of whom were students, also enrolled in the regular army.101
Non-state armed groups
Reports indicated the recruitment and use of child soldiers by the armed opposition groups Movement for Justice and Peace (MJP), Ivorian Popular Movement for the Great West (MPIGO) and Patriotic Movement of Côte d'Ivoire (MPCI). Closure of schools in opposition-held areas increased children’s vulnerability to voluntary and forcible recruitment.102
Among opposition forces in the west, HRW documented a strong presence of Liberian fighters, including children as young as nine years old armed with machine guns.103 The UN Panel of Experts on Liberia specifically referred to the forcible recruitment of Liberian refugees, including children, in Côte d’Ivoire by Liberian armed opposition groups.104 According to observers, among every Liberian unit of five or six fighters linked to the MPIGO in western Côte d’Ivoire would usually be at least one child solider. The combatants probably also included former members of Charles Taylor’s “Small Boys Units”, as some of them described starting young in Liberia, fighting in Sierra Leone and Liberia and having a contract to continue fighting in Togo.105 HRW also documented cases of recruitment of Liberian and Ivorian children in Côte d’Ivoire by MODEL, an armed opposition group in Liberia to fight in the neighboring conflict.106
Demobilization and child protection programs
On 11 July 2003 the official international headquarters for the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process was set up in Bouake. The office was composed of UN officials, French military commanders from operation “Licorne”, and representatives for the Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire (FANCI) and the three main armed opposition groups: MPCI, MPIGO and MJP.
Save the Children and UNICEF negotiated with the MPCI, which agreed in principle to demobilize children currently bearing arms.107 Other armed opposition groups agreed to a disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process for child soldiers, coordinated by UNICEF.108 However, the DDR plan did not include Liberian opposition groups operating in the west and it was not clear whether it would include Liberians who were still involved in Ivorian government and opposition forces.109
98 IRIN, “Côte d’Ivoire: Army continues giving guns to Liberian refugees”, 12 May 2003.
99 HRW, “Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire”, August 2003
100 HRW, “Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire”, August 2003
101 IPS, “Belligerents Recruit Child Soldiers”, 23 January 2003.
102 IPS, “Belligerents Recruit Child Soldiers”, 23 January 2003.
103 HRW, “Open Letter to UN Security Council”, 14 April 2003.
104 UN Panel of Experts on Liberia, S/2003/498, 24 April 2003.
105 HRW, “Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire”, August 2003.
106 HRW, “Trapped between two wars: violence against civilians in western Côte d’Ivoire”, August 2003.
107 IRIN, “Liberia: Child Soldiers are back on the Frontline”, 9 June 2003.
108 Economic Community of West African States official, confidential report, April 2003.
109 Information received from Save the Children, 30 June 2003.