By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON, March 14 – Myanmar’s military released 46 children and young people from service, the United Nations said in a statement on Monday, in its first discharge of underage recruits this year.
The army has released 745 underage recruits since signing up to a joint action plan with the U.N. in June 2012 to end the use of children in the military.
Human rights groups have long accused Myanmar’s military of abuses such as using child soldiers, forcibly recruiting conscripts and confiscating land.
After handing power to a semi-civilian government in 2011, the military has taken some steps toward professionalising its forces. That includes the release of soldiers recruited under the age of 18.
“The children and young people discharged will benefit from reintegration programmes to help them re-start their lives and seize new opportunities for their own development and participation in the life of the country,” the U.N. said.
The U.N. Secretary-General has also listed seven non-state armed groups in Myanmar which it says recruit children.
They include the powerful Kachin Independence Army, which controls large swathes of Myanmar’s northern Kachin State, and the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The U.N. said it had started talks with several of the groups to end the use of child soldiers.
The government has held peace talks with many of the ethnic armed groups and signed a ceasefire with some of them last year.
But fighting between the military and other ethnic groups continues. The release comes amid continued clashes in the eastern Shan State, as well as in Kachin state.
Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won a landslide electoral victory in November, is seeking a broader ceasefire to end all conflict between the armed forces and ethnic groups.