Pubdate: Mon, 11 Apr 2005
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2005 Southam Inc.
Author: Isabel Vincent, National Post


Rio's drug gang leaders have been buying light weapons easy for
children to carry: Similarities to use of children in African wars

Long concerned with the plight of child soldiers in Africa,
Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire (Ret.) has recently made a new
discovery -- that drug traffickers in Brazil are increasingly
recruiting children to the drug wars.

Gen. Dallaire, who was the commander of the ill-fated United Nations
peacekeeping mission during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, sees the
proof of this in a recent massacre in Rio de Janeiro, where nine
adolescents were among the 30 victims.

"It's drug violence, and the same kind of child soldiers that I saw in
Africa are showing up working for the drug lords who control shantytowns in
Brazil," said Gen. Dallaire, who since the publication of his bestselling
book, Shake Hands With the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, has
devoted much of his time to studying the fate of child soldiers around the

There are close to 300,000 children serving as soldiers in armed
conflicts around the world, according to Human Rights Watch, a
non-governmental organization.

Much of Gen. Dallaire's research at Harvard University, where he is a
fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, is still focused on
Africa, particularly on child soldiers in war-torn countries such as
Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But lately he has documented startling similarities between the
children he has seen working as soldiers in Africa and the
impoverished children who work for drug gangs in the shantytowns of
Rio de Janeiro, one of the world's most violent cities. According to
the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics, violence in the
country is three times more deadly than the war in Iraq.

"The similarities are appalling," said Gen. Dallaire, who has
researched the fate of some of the thousands of children employed by
drug gangs in Rio.

For years, Rio's drug gang leaders have been buying light weapons such
as M-16 rifles, largely because they are easy for nine-year-olds to
carry, Gen. Dallaire said. The same type of weaponry -- light pistols,
machine guns and grenades -- are used by child soldiers in Africa,
many of whom have been kidnapped from their families by local militias.

"Physically vulnerable and easily intimidated, children typically make
obedient soldiers," Human Rights Watch says, adding that hundreds of
young girls in Angola, Sierra Leone and Uganda are also kidnapped to
work as sex slaves for rebel armies.

This is not the case in the more than 500 shantytowns in Rio de
Janeiro, where little girls are typically used as messengers or
lookouts for the drug dealers.

"The girls look so innocent that few people suspect them of being
involved with the drug lords," said Gen. Dallaire, who met with
Brazilian military leaders in the country's capital, Brasilia, in
order to find ways to end the violence. In the past, the Brazilian
armed forces have been called in to help stem the violence in Rio's
shantytowns, where some members of the local police forces are
ill-equipped, underpaid and corrupt.

In Rio, children also work as drug couriers, smuggling cocaine from
one part of the shantytown to another. Teenage boys typically work as
security guards for the drug lords, Gen. Dallaire said.

"They are trained to kill, to defend the favelas [shantytowns] for the
drug lords," said Gen. Dallaire, who visited several shantytowns
accompanied by members of a local non-governmental organization. "In
the favela, they are encouraged to join because their membership in
the drug gang often provides funds and security for their family."

Which is why many are the target of off-duty police, hired by local
merchants and even drug dealers to kill them. Some of these
drug-related massacres make international headlines, such as last
week's killings in Nova Iguacu and Queimados, on the outskirts of Rio.

Eleven police officers were arrested in connection with the slaughter,
and eight of them have been charged with murder.

At one of the massacre sites last Thursday, witnesses said they saw a
police officer shoot children from a silver Volkswagen and then return
a few hours later to conduct the investigation into the killings,
which took place at a bar where the children were playing pinball.

But according to Gen. Dallaire, who plans to publish his findings this
summer, there are many reports of child soldiers who are "summarily
executed by police and tossed into dumpsters."

Rio de Janeiro state is among the most violent regions of the world,
with 50 homicides per 100,000 residents, according to the Brazilian
Institute for Geography and Statistics.

The government agency said that from 1991 to 2000, the firearms
mortality rate for males between the ages of 15 and 24 increased by

"When I was in Brazil, I was told that the life expectancy of a child
fighter was two years," Gen. Dallaire said, adding that the drug
violence is only expected to rise as long as the upper and middle
classes continue to consume the cocaine that is sold in the

"It's a pestilence that is sucking up children," Gen. Dallaire

"It's amazing that this kind of thing is happening in a country that
is considered a leading economic power."
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