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UN Says Syrian Regime Killing, Torturing Children

Children hide behind sandbags on the street in the central Syrian town of Rastan, near Homs.
The United Nations has placed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime on a list of governments that kill and torture children, or force them into battle.

The UN's annual report on children and armed conflict says the Syrian government has become one of the worst offenders on its "list of shame."

It says Syrian Army troops, as well as pro-government Shabiha militia fighters, have intentionally targeted children as young as 9 in their deadly crackdown against the country's 15-month uprising.

Based on interviews conducted by UN monitors with children and former soldiers in Syria, the report presents evidence of children who have been victims of killing and maiming, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, and sexual violence.

Children with the scars of torture described being beaten, blindfolded, forced into stress positions, whipped with heavy cables, and burned with cigarettes during interrogations.

It records one case in which Syrian authorities subjected a young boy to electrical shocks on his genitals.

The report also says children are being placed on Syrian Army tanks and troop transports to be used as human shields in battles against the opposition Free Syrian Army.

It describes one specific case -- a March 9 attack by government forces on the village of Ayn l'Arouz in Idlib Province -- in which Syrian troops rounded up dozens of young boys and placed them at the windows of busses carrying soldiers into the raid.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN's special representative for children and armed conflict, says she has rarely seen "such brutality against children" as the violence being carried out by the Syrian regime.

Damascus Denials

The report is the most comprehensive documentation of systematic abuses by the Syrian regime and Shabiha militia to emerge since the uprising against Assad's rule began 15 months ago.

Assad's regime prevents independent journalists from entering the country to report on the uprising.

But during the past month, video footage has emerged on social-media websites like YouTube showing civilian victims of massacres at villages like Houla, where dozens of women and children were hacked to death or shot in the head at close range.

UN monitors say evidence shows that the Houla atrocity was carried out by Shabiha militia fighters in a coordinated operation with Syrian Army troops.

One of the latest videos to emerge, reportedly shot on June 10, shows relatives of 10 dead children lamenting over their bodies in the village of Bakas near Haffeh, Syria.

Assad's regime has repeatedly denied responsibility for such massacres, claiming such killings are being carried out by opposition fighters at the behest of Western governments as part of a propaganda campaign aimed at overthrowing the Damascus government.

The UN's latest report on abuses does not implicate opposition forces in such massacres. But it does criticize the opposition Free Syrian Army for using children to carry water and medical supplies at the front lines of battles.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, AFP, and the BBC
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