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US allows aid to nations using child soldiers

world Updated: Oct 29, 2010 00:59 IST
Mary Beth Sheridan

President Barack Obama has granted a waiver allowing four countries to continue receiving US military aid even though they use child soldiers, officials said on Wednesday.Human rights groups reacted with surprise and concern, saying the decision would send the wrong message.

Administration officials said cutting off aid would cause more damage than good in countries where the US is trying to fight terrorism and reform abusive armies. Obama sent a memo to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying that it was “in the national interest” to waive a cutoff of military assistance for Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and Yemen.

Those countries would have been penalised under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act, which was signed into law by President George W Bush shortly before he left office. The law took effect this year, after the State Department identified six countries that used government soldiers — including Somalia and Burma.

Senior US officials said Wednesday that Yemen was exempted because ending military aid would jeopardise the country's ability to fight al Qaeda. In Sudan, US military assistance will be critical in helping the unstable southern part of the country build military institutions if it votes to secede in a January referendum, as expected, officials said.

Congo was exempted because US-funded programs are aimed at helping the military become professional, less abusive, officials said. Chad got a pass because of its role in fighting terrorism and assistance with the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region of Sudan.

One senior official said the countries were not getting off scot-free. “We put all these countries on notice by naming them as having child soldiers, and making them automatically subject to sanctions,” the official said.

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