Retired General Ismail Opande yesterday told the Special Court how thousands of child combatants and children associated with the war were handed over to UNAMSIL by the RUF.
The witness disclosed that between 18-21 May 2002, 813 RUF combatants were disarmed although there was outside bombardment from the Kambia border. Among the 813, 618 were adults and 192 children.
This disarmament, according to the witness, was significant as it was attended by the ESRSG and RUF delegates including Omeri Golley who was then chairman of the Political and Peace Council of the RUF, while “Augustine Gbao was in attendance to lend the support of the RUF to the process.”
General Opande further told the court that between 19th-20th May 2000, there was also bombardment in Jagboima in the Kono district which came from Guinea to Kambia but there was no resistance from the RUF.
He went on that on 25th May 2001, the RUF announced that it would release approximately 600 child combatants and children associated with the fighting forces and that these children were eventually handed over to UNAMSIL and were placed under UNICEF and other child protection agencies.
This event, he stressed, was significant as it was attended by UNAMSIL and RUF who had organised the release of the children.
On 4th June, he continued, 178 children associated with the war in Kailahun were handed over again to UNAMSIL among which were 40 girls and two infants and that the rest were boys and these children were airlifted to Daru.
General Opande said a meeting was held at the UNAMSIL Sector 4 headquarters in Magburuka where Solomon Berewa, Hinga Norman, Issa Sesay and Augustine Gbao, and the SRSG attended.
The purpose of the meeting was to look at possible ways of repatriating the children as the RUF had announced that it would release child soldiers.
On 22nd June, he continued, 131 child soldiers in Tongo Field were handed over and a total of 107 children were also handed over to UNAMSIL majority of them were boys.
The witness said by July 16th, a total of 1.117,000 was also handed over to UNAMSIL.
General Opande also disclosed that as part of their mandate on the disarmament process they were to find out who was fighting and those that were doing jobs as most of the children claimed that they were fighters.
By Betty Milton