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Witness Tells Of Soldier Aged 11

A child protection specialist told prosecutors today that she referred many children to reintegration centers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including an 11-year-old.

Christine Peduto, who worked for the United Nations Mission to the Congo (MONUC), said the boy was recruited when he was just 10, and was the bodyguard of the high-ranking Union of Congolese Patriots (UPC) official Floribert Kisembo.

Peduto, who testified in French without any protective measures such as face and voice distortion, said she arrived in the Ituri town of Bunia in May 2003, just after the Ugandan army had left and the UPC, presided over by Thomas Lubanga, took control.

She oversaw MONUC’s child protection office in Bunia and worked with various NGOs to assist child soldiers who had been demobilized.

“The situation was so tense,” Peduto said. “The children who had been [demobilized] were in a confused state.”

Verifying each child’s age was always complicated, since “there is no scientific procedure for determining the age of a child,” she told prosecutor Julieta Solano McCausland.

Peduto said they usually relied on information provided by the child and detailed interviews conducted by social workers. Physical appearance was also taken into consideration, but was not the main criteria, she added.

MONUC and local NGOs also worked to verify the details of each child’s story.

“I would ask them numerous questions, as much as the children were willing to answer,” she said. “It was important to identify the date they were recruited, who provided the child with training, which battles they participated in and the last commander under whose orders the child had served.”

Information provided by the child was then cross-checked with a timeline of events to ensure that their statement corresponded with reality, she said.

Peduto claimed that, as of 2004, 220 former soldiers under the age of 15 had been processed by MONUC’s Bunia office, 167 of which had at some point been associated with the UPC.

“To be perfectly clear, this proportion doesn’t mean there were more children in the UPC than in other groups,” she added. “We just had more access to [child soldiers in] the UPC because we were in Bunia.”

Peduto will continue her testimony tomorrow morning.