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Church rescues 86 child soldiers in Sierra Leone

The Catholic Church has begun to shelter the first group of child-soldiers who, up until now, were fighting with the rebels in Sierra Leone's civil war.

Bishop Giorgio Biguzzi of Makeni told the Misna missionary agency that 86 boys and girls were handed over Saturday to the diocesan Caritas by the Revolutionary United Front. Caritas had prepared a place for them in the St Francis secondary school in Makeni.

The RUF command authorised Caritas personnel to visit the diocesan villages in order to accelerate the rescue of minors recruited by the anti-government movement of Sierra Leone.

"The handing over of the child-soldiers is a sign of hope for the country," Bishop Biguzzi said.

In some instances, the Church has purchased the liberty of children, at a cost of $A96 to $A193.

"I hope that the disarmament of the numerous armed bands spread all over Sierra Leone will take place as soon as possible," the bishop said. "Only then will it really be possible to speak about peace."

Bishop Biguzzi previously said that more than 5000 children, some as young as five, have been recruited by the government and the rebels. Another 5000 children are used by the rebels as free labour. The girls are used as sex slaves, the bishop added.