Sudanese rebels must stop recruiting children and keep their fighters out of a refugee camp in South Sudan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Anne Richard said.
U.S. officials in Washington met with leaders of the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North after receiving reports in September that the group was recruiting in refugee camps inside South Sudan where the United Nations says more than 175,000 people have fled violence in Sudan.
“Our message to them was really about the civilian nature of the camp and have asked them to please not use a camp which is supposed to be civilian as a center for R and R or for recruitment of soldiers,” Richard told reporters today in Juba, South Sudan’s capital. “Especially we’ve asked that they not take children to serve as soldiers.”
The refugees are fleeing fighting that began more than a year ago between President Umar al-Bashir’s government and rebels who fought during a two-decade civil alongside the forces of South Sudan, which gained independence in July last year.
The fighting is concentrated in oil-rich Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states, where New York-based Human Rights Watch said in April that civilians are bearing the brunt of indiscriminate bombing by government aircraft.
Arnu Lodi, a spokesman for the rebels, denied the insurgents recruited children and others in the refugee camps.
“The SPLM-N are not taking any children,” he said by phone from Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. “They are not recruiting in the camp.”
While Richard said she saw uniformed soldiers when she visited Yida camp in South Sudan’s Unity state, it wasn’t clear if they were rebels or members of South Sudan’s army. Yida houses 63,468 refugees from Southern Kordofan, according to the UN.
While the rebels sometimes visit their families in the camps, Lodi said, they don’t carry weapons.
There are reports of “tens of thousands” waiting to cross the border once the rainy season ends, Richard said. She held meetings with South Sudanese government and UN refugee agency officials about finding alternative locations to house new refugees, as well as relocate those already in Yida, which is too close to the border.
The U.S. government increased its budget this year for refugees in South Sudan to $53 million from $29 million, Richard said.