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In Burundi, FNL Dissenters Are "Alleged," UNICEF Ready for Child Soldiers, Silent on Sri Lanka

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, December 7 -- The biggest problem in the small state of Burundi, the UN's integrated mission there (BINUB) says, is the remaining rebel group, the FNL. Friday at UN headquarters, Inner City Press asked the UN's Burundi envoy Youssef Mahmoud how many fighters, more or less, the FNL still has. "I don't know," Mahmoud replied. "Some say three thousand." Inner City Press asked about the supposed deserters from the FNL, now assembled in camps.

    "In the UN, we call them alleged dissidents," Mahmoud replied. Last week, South African mediator Nqakula said there are child soldiers in the camps, and called on the international community, including UNICEF, to visit the camps and demobilized the under-aged fighters. Video here. Inner City Press asked UNICEF and then Mr. Mahmoud, does UNICEF or others in the UN system have access to the camps? "We have access, but not for giving assistance," Mahmoud said, adding that the young fighters don't want to give their ages, preferring to remain in the camps. But if they are identified as children, he added, then UNICEF stands ready to help them. UNICEF, meanwhile, has yet to answer Inner City Press' week-old question about what it had done and will do in Burundi.

UN's Burundi envoy Youssef Mahmoud opens BINUB, FNL not shown

            Another UNICEF question arose on Friday at the UN's noon briefing: what is the response to the government of Sri Lanka's charges that UNICEF improperly armor-plated a car and imported meals-ready-to-eat from a military supplier? UN spokesperson Michele Montas said, "let's wait, if they are meeting, they are meeting, we will know more later." Video here, from Minute 11:46.

   The issue has been brewing for some weeks. While it's understandable that UNICEF might not want to speak on the issue of staff members' right to attend commemorations of murdered humanitarian workers if a government views this as "political," the simpler issues of armor-plating cars and procuring MREs from military suppliers should be able to be answered. As should what's being done on the issue of child soldiers in Burundi. Watch this site.

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Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540