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Children brutally killed in South Sudan fighting: UNICEF

April 19, 2014 (JUBA) - A number of children were killed in Thursday's fighting at a United Nations base in South Sudan's Jonglei state, with many either caught up in the crossfire or died after being recruited by armed groups and forces, the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) said.

The exact number of children killed, it said, was not yet known but they were among the dozens of civilians injured and many killed when gunmen attacked those internally displaced at the UN protection of civilians site in the capital, Bor.

"Utterly defenseless children were attacked in a place where they should have felt safe," said Jonathan Veitch, UNICEF Representative in South Sudan.

"The trauma for children under such circumstances is indescribable," he added.

The agency also expressed concerns about children reportedly seen carrying weapons, undergoing military training and others dressed in military uniforms.

UNICEF further stressed that it had credible reports that both sides to the conflict were recruiting children, contrary to existing national and international laws.

Under both international and South Sudanese national law, the forcible or voluntary recruitment or abduction of persons under the age of 18, whether as a member of a regular army or of an informal militia, is prohibited.

In 2013, the UN and the South Sudanese army (SPLA) signed an agreement in which the army renewed its commitment to release all children from its ranks. Since 2003, however, the SPLA had been included on the UN Secretary-General's list of parties to conflict that reportedly recruit and use children.

"This is fierce, brutal infantry fighting – children must not be instruments of this conflict," said Veitch.

"We talk of the long term damage done to children who are recruited, but right now the immediate threat is to their life. Those in positions of command and leadership have a duty to keep children out of harm's way and take all necessary measures to prevent children being part of armed groups and forces," he stressed.

Several boys and girls have reportedly been killed, maimed, raped, orphaned and made homeless since the fighting broke out in the South Sudan in December 2013.

Over 10,000 people are believed to have died and more than one million have been displaced by the conflict in South Sudan. An additional nearly 300,000 have been displaced into neighbouring Uganda, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia.

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