13 January 2009The top United Nations official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today launched a new appeal for armed groups in the eastern region of the vast war-torn country to release all children remaining in their ranks. After meeting with a group of 20 children recently removed from the grasp of local militia in North Kivu, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the DRC, Alan Doss, spoke on local UN-backed Radio Okapi calling for the return of all boys and girls fighting in the war zone. “The recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups is a war crime and a crime against humanity. This literally destroys the future of this country,” said Mr. Doss, who is also the head of the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, known by its French acronym MONUC.With the support of MONUC blue helmets the children are preparing for the readjustment on their return to their families and the villages they uprooted from before engaging in combat. During their visit, the Special Representative and the Force Commander of MONUC, General Babacar Gaye, pledged the UN would make every effort to eradicate the scourge of child soldiers. The Government of the DRC and the mainly Tutsi rebel militia Congrès national pour la Défense du people (CNDP) began talks in Nairobi in December aimed at ending the ongoing conflict centred in the east of the country, which has uprooted an estimated 250,000 people since late August, on top of the 800,000 already displaced in the region, mainly in North Kivu province.With a 17,500-strong force, MONUC currently has more troops on the ground than any other UN mission. It was originally set up in 1999 with a mandated force of some 5,500 to help enforce a ceasefire after years of civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease – widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since the Second World War – before it ended earlier this decade.