from the news.scotsman.com:
Gaddafi’s new force of child soldiers revealed
By Ruth Sherlock
COLONEL Muammar al-Gaddafi is using child soldiers in his battle to regain the besieged Libyan town of Misrata, The Scotsman has learned.
Boys as young as 15 are being conscripted, say government troops captured by the rebels.
Ninety boys, between the ages of 15 and 19, were called to military barracks in Tripoli “for training” as soon as the 17 February popular uprising began, Murad, 16, and another captive, Abdul, have independently told The Scotsman.
Speaking from different medical clinics in the besieged city, the young men were unwilling to reveal their full identities for fear of reprisals against their relatives in areas still controlled by the dictator’s forces.
The use of soldiers younger than 18 in combat adds to the list of war crimes accusations against Col Gaddafi, after it emerged in the last few days that his units were using Spanish-made cluster bombs in Misrata – which pose particular risk to civilians because they scatter small bomblets over a wide area. Most of the world’s nations have banned the use of the munitions. The Libyan government has rejected the allegations.
With almost no military training, the boys said they were handed Kalashnikovs and taken near to the road which leads to Misrata’s sea port – the war zone of artillery, rocket and tank fire.
Libya’s third-largest city has been under siege by pro-Gaddafi troops for about seven weeks. Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed there.
Yesterday marked a month since the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising force to protect civilians in Libya, leading to an international air campaign.
Now under the care of the rebels, Murad looked at ease as he bantered with his doctors from his oversized wheelchair.
He talked about football, computers, and blushed at the mention of girls.
Still too young to shave, until last week he was handling weapons on the deadliest front of Libya’s brutal civil war.
Until he was injured, losing a leg, and captured by the opposition, Murad was an unwilling soldier in Col Gaddafi’s conscript army – a force about which little is known, even this far into the conflict.
He is just one of dozens of schoolboys who have been taken from Tripoli, and forced to fight for Col Gaddafi.
“Many of the people are younger than me,” explained Murad.
“We were kept locked in the camp and trained a little and then they took us to the battalion,” said Abdul, 19, who also suffered serious injuries before being captured by the rebel forces.
For nearly six weeks, they were kept without access to radio or television. Then with no information about where they were going, the group was then taken to Misrata.
“I didn’t say goodbye to my family when I went to the barracks. I thought I was just going for two weeks’ training,” said Murad.
As they arrived outside the contested city, they were told they were there to save Misrata from foreign invaders that had taken control of the town. “We were told there were mercenaries close to the seaport,” said Abdul.
Both Murad and Abdul said they waited for several days in the abandoned homes of Misrata civilians.
Terrified, Murad’s group refused the officer’s order for them to go forward.
They stayed hiding in the house. “The officer found us and forced us into the car,” said Murad.
Shoved out of the vehicle at the front line, the bewildered boys came under immediate fire from the rebel troops.
Their group was pounded with rounds from anti-aircraft cannons and heavy machine guns.
“Three of the boys died, and the officer ran away,” said Murad.
Abandoned and hit in the leg, Murad tried to stem the blood loss with a tourniquet and dragged himself behind a concrete block, before “a rebel saw me and shot me in the arm”.
Rebel fighters then took him to a Misrata hospital, but the leg was too damaged to save.
The rebels in Misrata have set up effective defences, using ruins as cover, and even utilising dump trucks filled with sand as emergency mobile barriers – any assault against them is costly. The doctors in Misrata can recount numerous incidents of young Gaddafi soldiers being brought into the wards.
The director of the Higma medical centre showed this reporter video of a young-looking boy, clad in khaki green and moaning on a stretcher, bullet wounds riddling his body.
“This boy is 16 years old, we tried to save him, but his injuries were too bad. He died later that day,” said Dr Khalid Abu Falgha.
Abdul said he went to the front line in a group of 15 young soldiers. When they came under heavy fire from the rebels, the officer turned and ran.
He followed, and men from his own brigade shot him, he explained.
“The instructions were that nobody should go back. I lay on the ground bleeding for one and half hours.”
Murad and Abdul live under the protection of the rebels. They cannot leave the besieged city for their safety.
“I haven’t seen my family in more than a month,” said Abdul, breaking down into tears.
“We have promised Murad that as soon as we can get access, we will personally take him to his father and mother in Tripoli,” said his doctor. “He is just a child.”