JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — About 3,000 child soldiers will be gradually released from an armed group in South Sudan, the United Nations children's agency said after 280 children were freed on Tuesday.
More phased releases will happen in the coming weeks, said UNICEF, which helped negotiate the freedom of the children, aged from 11 to 17.
"These children have been forced to do and see things no child should ever experience," UNICEF South Sudan Representative Jonathan Veitch said in a statement. "The release of thousands of children requires a massive response to provide the support and protection these children need to begin rebuilding their lives."
They were recruited by the South Sudan Democratic Army Cobra Faction, an armed group whose leader David Yau Yau signed a peace agreement with the South Sudan government last year.
Last year 12,000 children were used as soldiers by armed forces and groups across South Sudan, said UNICEF.
Although Yau Yau's rebellion has been contained, South Sudan remains prone to fresh outbreaks of violence, including a rebellion led by the former deputy president and attacks by other rebel groups.
Eleven people died, including five journalists, on Saturday when gunmen attacked a convoy in the country's west, said South Sudanese military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer. Aguer on Tuesday blamed the attack on the Ugandan rebel group the Lord's Resistance Army believed to be hiding in neighboring Sudan, Chad and Central African Republic.
South Sudan's conflict between the government and the rebels continues. The fighting started in December 2013, when forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar fought President Salva Kiir's national army. Since then, more than 1.5 million South Sudanese have fled their homes. The two sides have signed several peace deals but warfare has continued in the oil-rich country.
The international community will seriously consider sanctions on South Sudan's warring factions if a power- sharing agreement is not signed this week, said Norway's foreign minister Borge Brende, who's attending an African Union executive council meeting in Ethiopia.
Muhumuza contributed from Kampala, Uganda. AP writer Elias Meseret contributed from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.