4 September 2007The United Nations human rights envoy tasked with protecting the rights of children caught up in armed conflict is heading this week to Côte d’Ivoire to assess the situation in the divided West African country. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, will focus particularly on the follow-up of action plans aimed at releasing children from armed groups and reintegrating them into their communities, UN spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters. Ms. Coomaraswamy will also examine the issue of sexual violence against children in the aftermath of the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire, which has been split between the Government-controlled south and the Forces Nouvelles-held north since 2002. The Special Representative was invited to Côte d’Ivoire by the Government, Ms. Montas added. The UN peacekeeping mission to the country (known as UNOCI) is helping to implement a disarmament process in Côte d’Ivoire as part of a peace deal signed by the country’s leaders in Ouagadougou, capital of neighbouring Burkina Faso, in March. The pact calls, among other steps, for: creating a new transitional government; organizing free and fair presidential elections; merging the Forces Nouvelles and the national defence and security forces through the establishment of an integrated command centre; dismantling the militias, disarming ex-combatants and enrolling them in civil services programmes; and replacing the “zone of confidence” separating north and south with a green line to be monitored by UNOCI. Last year, a report from the UN Secretary-General found that Côte d’Ivoire was one of at least 12 countries where children are recruited to serve as either government soldiers, rebel gunmen or militia members.