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UN children's agency believes that hundreds of boys were kidnapped in South Sudan

NewsBy Neil Fetherston
It is feared the children will be recruited as soldiers. FILE PHOTO
It is feared the children will be recruited as soldiers. FILE PHOTO

The UN children's agency has said it believes that hundreds of boys were kidnapped last month in the northeast of South Sudan.

Last week UNICEF had estimated that 89 boys, some as young as 13, were abducted by an armed group in Wau Shilluk.

The riverside town is in government-held territory within the oil-rich Upper Nile state.

"The organisation now believes the number of children may be in the hundreds," UNICEF said in a statement.

It added that the suspected kidnappers were from a "militia... aligned with the government's SPLA forces."

Witnesses to the mass abduction on 15-16 February said that unidentified armed soldiers surrounded the community and went house to house taking away by force any boys thought to be over 12.

"The recruitment and use of children by armed forces destroys families and communities," Jonathan Veitch, the head of UNICEF in South Sudan, said when the kidnappings were first reported.

UNICEF estimates there are at least 12,000 children used by both sides in South Sudan's ongoing civil war.

South Sudan plunged into violence in December 2013 when fighting erupted between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels led by his rival, former vice president Riek Machar.

Each side has accused the other of forcibly recruiting child soldiers.