Syrian army uses children as 'human shields': UN

Syria children

Syrian troops have tortured children, executed them and used children as young as eight as "human shields" during military raids against rebels, according to a UN report released today.

The United Nations branded the Syrian government as one of the worst offenders on its annual "list of shame" of conflict countries where children are killed, tortured and forced to fight.

Human rights groups estimate that about 1,200 children have died during the 15-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, whose brutal crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired protests has been widely condemned.

"Rarely, have I seen such brutality against children as in Syria, where girls and boys are detained, tortured, executed, and used as human shields," Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN special representative for children in armed conflict, told AFP ahead of the report's release.

Government forces rounded up dozens of boys aged eight to 13 before an attack on the village of Ayn l'Arouz in Idlib province on March 9, the report said.

The children were "used by soldiers and militia members as human shields, placing them in front of the windows of buses carrying military personnel into the raid on the village," it said.

Quoting witnesses, the UN report said Syrian military and intelligence forces, as well as pro-government Shabiha militiamen, surrounded the village for an attack that lasted more than four days.

Among the 11 dead on the first day were three boys aged 15 to 17. Another 34 people, including two boys aged 14 and 16 and a nine-year-old girl, were detained.

"Eventually, the village was reportedly left burned and four out of the 34 detainees were shot and burned, including the two boys aged 14 and 16 years," the Children in Armed Conflict report said.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said the report had uncovered one of many "grave violations" against children.

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