16 November 2007Two hundred and thirty two children have been freed from Mayi Mayi forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partner, Save the Children – but the UN agency warned that more must be done to end the use of underage conscripts in fighting in the country’s troubled Kivu provinces. Two hundred and thirty two children have been freed from Mayi Mayi forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with help from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partner, Save the Children – but the UN agency warned that more must be done to end the use of underage conscripts in fighting in the country’s troubled Kivu provinces.The group was freed from Mayi Mayi forces in North and South Kivu over the last few days with support from the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) and following “an intensive media and outreach campaign on the non-recruitment and non-use of children by armed groups,” UNICEF said in a news releaseThe children had been recruited recently in the wake of increased conflict in North Kivu, where fighting between opposing groups has forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee. “The majority of the 232 children are currently in transitory care facilities and awaiting family reunification. Once reunified, they will receive assistance to go back to school, undertake vocational training, or start small income generating activities,” UNICEF said.While lauding this positive development, the agency said it remains concerned about the hundreds of children who remain in armed groups and forces in the DRC. The agency called on all armed groups and forces to release these children immediately into the care of child protection agencies as part of the National Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration (DDR) Programme.Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is reporting that some 20,000 people have returned to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in North Kivu that they had fled from on Tuesday after dawn skirmishes in surrounding hills between Government forces and suspected renegade troops. The IDPs found their shelters had been stripped of the UNHCR-distributed plastic sheeting used to protect them from the rain and sun. The plastic sheeting, which UNHCR purchases for about $7 per piece, turned up in markets for $12 per piece. Much of the looting was organized and systematic, according to UN aid workers. “Tuesday’s events, when tens of thousands of Congolese fled within hours, show the extreme volatility of North Kivu. There is a high risk of civilians becoming victims of violence and severe human rights abuses,” said UNHCR Senior Emergency Preparedness and Response Officer Germaine Bationo. UN agencies and non-governmental organizations working in Goma are now planning new assistance to the IDPs, some of whom had been displaced as many as five times.