updated 9/19/2007 7:42:35 PM ET 2007-09-19T23:42:35

A warlord in eastern Congo is recruiting child soldiers in violation of international law, U.N. and government officials said Wednesday.

Nephtali, a deputy in Congo’s national assembly, said that forces loyal to former army general Laurent Nkunda raided 10 secondary schools and four primary schools in the past week “where they took the children by force in order to make them join their ranks.”

The U.N. has also confirmed that children are being recruited by different armed groups, “especially by the rebel forces of warlord Laurent Nkunda,” said Michel Bonnardeaux, a spokesman for the U.N. Mission in Congo.

It was not known how many children have been forcibly recruited, Bonnardeaux said. He said girls are being taken to serve as sex slaves, while boys are used as fighters. Those who try to escape are often recruited by rival armed groups based in the lawless eastern part of the country.

Nkunda’s rebels clashed with Congo’s army last month in North Kivu province, leading thousands of villagers to flee their homes.

Once controlled by rival rebel factions who eventually signed a peace deal in 2002 to end a four-year war, eastern Congo has been wracked by fighting between local militias, renegade soldiers and the army.

Nkunda quit the army after the war and launched his own rebellion, claiming the country’s transition to democracy was flawed and excluded the country’s ethnic Tutsi minority. Nkunda has also said he is fighting to protect ethnic Tutsis from Rwandan Hutu rebels who took refuge in eastern Congo following Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.

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