Ndjamena — The Chadian military is reportedly recruiting young men by force, possibly including children, to help stem losses from recent fighting with rebels on several fronts in the east of the country.
Human Rights Without Borders (DHSF), a Chadian human rights group, says it has received reports of army units raiding private homes and taking children. Larger raids have also been reported in places where youths gather, according to several sources, including an eyewitness who spoke to IRIN.
The reported raids are said to be taking place in the capital, N'djamena, as well as in towns and villages around the country.
"Many of the youth being made to join the army are underage," according to Daniel Passalet Duezoumbe, head of DHSF.
Both the army and rebels have suffered heavy losses in fighting in recent weeks, according to numerous sources.
The new recruits are being taken straight to the front after "at most" 10 days of training, Duezoumbe said.
"We have a report of a child being killed by shooting himself with his own gun because he did not have proper training in how to use it."
Human rights advocates made allegations of forced recruitment in January 2006. Then, waves of Chadian soldiers were defecting to rebel groups.
One witness to the recent round-ups, a 22-year-old student who gave only his first name, Guy, said he escaped a raid while watching a film at a cinema in N'djamena.
"About an hour into the movie people behind us suddenly started screaming. I looked behind and saw soldiers wearing turbans and carrying rifles and coming down the aisle, pulling all the men out of their seats and taking them away."
He said he managed to jump over a wall. "As I was running away I looked behind me and saw two army Toyota pickups and a big truck with soldiers forcing people inside."
Forced recruitment of civilians over age18 is not covered under international law, the head of the ICRC in Chad, Thomas Merkelbach, told IRIN.
"I am unaware of anything covering press ganging," he said, referring to the practice of spontaneously conscripting people into the military without prior notice, which is also known as impressments.
But it is illegal under Chadian law, according to the DHSF's Duezoumbe. "Article 51 of the Chadian constitution states that the government may conscript civilians only if it faces an external threat on its territory not an internal rebellion," he said.
He also said that conscription must be approved by the country's parliament after which men are to register. "It is totally illegal for the army to just pick people up off the street."
In the conflict zones in the east the rebels are also using forced recruits, he added.
Government spokesman Hourmadji Moussa Doumgor said at a press conference in December that if troops were making raids they were not authorised to do so.
"The government asks all people who have been forcibly recruited or tricked by those who took them to the combat zone in recent weeks and who are now in the wilderness to present themselves to local [civilian] authorities with or without their weapon," Doumgor said.
"The young men should not fear the civilian authorities. They will be welcomed," he said.
Yet sources IRIN spoke with said they doubted that any soldier on the front lines would dare to desert his post and claim he had been recruited by force.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]