London asked the UN special envoy for children in armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, to take Northern Ireland and its paramilitary groups off the list on Wednesday, arguing the situation there was not an "armed conflict".

Otunnu's office was created as a result of a landmark report in 2000 by Graca Machel of Mozambique, now the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela, who detailed the recruitment and exploitation of children in war zones.

While awaiting a response from Otunnu, Britain has blocked Security Council action on a draft plan to protect children in warfare that had been put forward by France.

Otunnu said the British had "raised a very precise concern about the meaning of 'armed conflict' and we are trying to address it."

Behind schedule

Council members were to have begun talks on the draft plan on 21 January, but Britain asked that no meetings take place until its problem with Belfast's listing was addressed, council diplomats said.

British officials denied blocking the talks but acknowledged they were working to correct a "misdefinition" of the situation in Northern Ireland as an "armed conflict".

British UN Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry told journalists: "My prediction is, within two weeks, that resolution will be ready for adoption and you will find the UK among its strongest supporters."

Missing the point?

But the UN's latest report on child recruitment lists paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland among 15 countries and more than 40 rebel groups that recruit or use youths under 17-years-old.

"My prediction is, within two weeks, that resolution will be ready for adoption and you will find the UK among its strongest supporters"

Emyr Jones Parry,
British UN Ambassador
 

While the 10 November report does not specify which paramilitaries it is referring to in Northern Ireland, both Protestant and Roman Catholic groups are active in the province.

Northern Ireland's landmark Good Friday agreement, signed in 1998, sought to end centuries of Protestant-Catholic conflict.

Others on the UN list are Afghanistan, Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Russia's Chechnya republic, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Uganda.

The report said Otunnu had sought commitments from Northern Ireland's armed groups "to refrain from recruiting or using children in the conflict."

Plan of action

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan wants the council to adopt a resolution setting out a concrete action plan to address the problem.

It includes a monitoring system to search for violations and punishment - including sanctions - for those violating children's rights.

Ironically, Britain is the primary source of funding for Otunnu's office, providing it with $3 million for 2001 to 2003, or nearly a third of its annual budget of about $3.5 million.