Colombian kids flee home rather than fight in war

Wed Dec 3, 2008 2:42pm EST
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By Hugh Bronstein

VILLAVICENCIO, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia's Marxist rebels, their ranks depleted by record desertions and military defeats, are stepping up recruitment of children in a desperate bid to prolong their war against the state.

More and more families say they are being forced to leave their homes under threat of having their children taken off to fight with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as the FARC, and other cocaine-funded militias.

The FARC has long used children in its 44-year-old war but is recruiting more aggressively to try to make up for a sharp decline in its fighting force.

One girl in the impoverished central province of Meta said the guerrillas first tried to persuade her to join by saying she would be helping defend her people against the rich.

Only 12 years old and not too interested in revolutionary politics, she just shrugged her shoulders. Then they sent good looking boys to buy her soda-pop and dance with her at the local makeshift disco, furthering the recruitment effort.

She still refused, so they threatened to hurt her. That was when she fled with her family, joining an estimated 3 million Colombians displaced by the war.

"At first it was kind of like a seduction. Then they started saying, 'You have to do this,'" said the girl, who now lives at a school for displaced children in Villavicencio, Meta.

She asked not to be named, fearing the FARC might track her down and seek reprisal. Her parents are back living in her home town hours away.   Continued...