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Child army deserters branded

 Children as young as six were still being recruited by rebels in Sierra Leone yesterday - although their leader Foday Sankoh is in prison awaiting trial. Local aid workers reported that the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) was picking up children between the ages of six and 14 in the Makeni area, 190 kms from the capital Freetown. They said the government army also continues to recruit children. Besides being trained to kill, many children, known as 'Civil Babies', are being used to carry ammunition and work as spies and couriers. The rebels brand these young recruits with the RUF symbol if they try to escape. Several reports said the youngsters were being drugged with a narcotic called 'jamba' as well as being given injections of cocaine. CAFOD spokeswoman Bev Jones said on Monday that local groups in Sierra Leone were negotiating the release of many children currently held by the fighting forces. CAFOD staffer Antonio Cabral has just returned from a trip to several areas to investigate the plight of the kidnapped children. He visited a Caritas Makeni children shelter where a large number of displaced children are currently staying. "They are trying to protect children from being recruited, and also trying to save youngsters who have escaped from the soldiers, from being re-captured," Bev said. Louise Zanre from Pax Christi, a member of the UK Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, said: "Children are victimised enough already in war. Ninety per cent of casualties in a war are civilian - mainly women and children. To recruit children or to force them into any armed force victimises them still further. "Apart from stealing their childhood, placing them in unacceptable danger and leaving them very traumatised, the recruitment of children into the armed forces diminishes their rights. "It increases the danger of children being regarded as legitimate targets in warfare in order to stop them from being used by opposing forces."