Disarming Child Warriors Difficult in Liberia

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All sides in the Liberian civil war have armies that look like they are from a junior high school yearbook, the Washington Post reports.

Whether the tens of thousands of child soldiers can be disarmed is at the heart of the agreement last week aimed at ending 14 years of bloodshed in Liberia.

The pact calls for rebel fighters and government soldiers — both accused of raping and robbing –to lay down their weapons and form a new national army.

But more than half the combatants are estimated to be 15 or younger. They have grown up in a Liberia where it is easier to get an AK-47 than any kind of book or notepad. Some of their village traditions teach them that they can be made immune to bullets and go unpunished for killing. With almost no opportunity for education or jobs, the task of getting any of the fighters, particularly the young ones, to put down their weapons and go on to another kind of life will be extremely difficult.

In some tribes in Liberia, fighters wear wedding gowns and other kinds of women’s dresses. They also sport choir and graduation gowns. They wear wigs and hold stuffed animals. Some clutch good-luck charms in the form of shells made into a necklace or wear talismans on their necks and carry boiled eggs.

They believe each ornament makes them invisible and immune to their attackers. But in their minds, it also does something more important: It separates them from the crimes they commit, which is part of the reason fighters take what they call “jungle names.”

“It’s like magic,” one young man who uses the name Bad Pay Bad explained. “I killed people and it doesn’t stick to me. I still go to heaven.”

Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A40198-2003Aug24.html

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