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Report: Chad's Army, Rebels Recruit Child Soldiers

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) - Chad's armed forces and Chadian and Sudanese rebel groups are recruiting children as young as 13 to become soldiers, Amnesty International said in a report released Thursday.

The children are recruited from camps in eastern Chad, which has suffered a spillover from the Darfur conflict in neighboring Sudan, Amnesty said.

Recruiters use family or appeal to the children's ethnic loyalties to get them to join. Sometimes they use child soldiers already in their ranks to lure the new recruits with money, clothes and cigarettes, the report said.

Where money is used, recruiters are reported to have paid children between $20 and $500 to join. In some cases, the children are abducted and forced to join the armed forces or rebel groups.

"It is tragic that thousands of children are denied their childhood and are manipulated by adults into fighting their wars," said Erwin van der Borght, Africa program director for Amnesty International. "This scandalous child abuse must not be allowed to continue."

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach government officials in Chad for comment failed.

Children can be easily recruited because of poverty. Some agree to join to seek revenge for relatives killed, while others see it as a family obligation, the report said.

"I became upset because people were killing some of my relatives and pillaging our goods. While in the rebellion living conditions were difficult but we had enough food," one 17-year-old former child soldier told Amnesty. "What was the most difficult was taking part in the fighting. Many of us were my age. There is nothing joyful in the rebellion."

The report is based on interviews with 41 former child soldiers and a range of officials between April 2009 and October 2010. Amnesty International quoted the former child soldiers anonymously to protect their safety.

Another former child soldier told Amnesty he volunteered to join a rebel group when he was 14 years old without telling his family.

"At home we did not have enough for everyone, so I wanted to better our situation and join the army to help my family and my mother," said the boy, who is now 18.

Not all of the child recruits fight, the report said, adding that some are used as porters or messengers for the soldiers and rebels.

Eastern Chad has suffered a spillover from the Darfur conflict in part because many rebels come from tribes that overlap the Chad and Sudan border. Some Darfur rebels have had bases in Chad, and the Chadian groups have had bases in Sudan.

However, for about a year there has been limited cross border fighting because the two governments have improved relations. The International Criminal Court has charged Sudan President Omar al-Bashir with genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes for the violence in Darfur. Chad did not arrest al-Bashir when he visited last July.

Chad's east is a temporary home to more than 250,000 refugees who have fled the conflict in Darfur. There are also camps for 187,000 Chadians displaced by fighting locally and in Darfur.

The Darfur conflict began in February 2003 when ethnic African rebels took up arms against the Arab-dominated Sudanese government in Khartoum, claiming discrimination and neglect. The U.N. says more than 300,000 people died because of the conflict.

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