The United Nations says 82 children have been d from an armed group in the southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo(DRC) and are being reunited with their families.In a statement issued on Friday, the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo(MONUSCO) said the children - - 69 boys and 13 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 - - had been recruited by force by the Mai Mai Bakata - Katanga rebel group over the past six months, AFP reported. MONUSCO said the children were identified and separated through joint efforts of local child protection agencies in Kibwela, Moba Territory, and Kayumba, Manono Territory - - all in Katanga province. Forty of the rescued children “were immediately reunited with their families, while the remaining are receiving interim care pending reunification, ” the MONUSCO statement said. Martin Kobler, the UN secretary general’s special envoy to Congo and head of MONUSCO, said the UN was “extremely concerned” about ongoing reports of active recruitment by armed groups in eastern DRC.
“Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes, ” he noted, adding, “The recruitment of children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account. ”The UN mission said that 163 children, including 22 girls, have been separated from Mai Mai Bakata-Katanga fighters since the beginning of the year. Katanga province sits on some of the world's largest copper reserves. The province exported 600,000 tons of copper last year. Katanga is the native province of Congolese President Joseph Kabila and has long had a fractious relationship with the central government in Kinshasa. It tried to secede directly after Congo's independence from Belgium in 1960. In March, the Mai Mai Bakata-Katanga rebels attacked the provincial capital Lubumbashi, marching through city streets and then fighting with the army close to the governor's offices. The official casualty toll was 23 dead. Congo has faced numerous problems over the past few decades, such as grinding poverty, crumbling infrastructure, and a war in the east of the country that has dragged on since 1998 and left over 5.5 million people dead.