Scores of child soldiers, some of them as young as eight years old, have been rescued from an armed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. mission in the African nation said.
The 82 children, 13 of them girls, were recovered since Sunday from the Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga armed group in the southeastern Katanga province, MONUSCO said Friday in a statement.
The children, aged up to 17 years, had reportedly been recruited by the armed group within the past six months, it said.
Forty of them have been reunited with their parents.
The others are being cared for until they can be returned home, the statement said.
"We are extremely concerned by continued reports of active recruitment by Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga and other armed groups in eastern DRC," said MONUSCO chief Martin Kobler.
"Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes. The recruitment of children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account."
Child protection agencies in the province orchestrated the rescues, MONUSCO said.
Since the start of the year, 163 children, including 22 girls, have been rescued from Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga by MONUSCO and child protection workers, the statement said.
The country's mineral-rich eastern part is at the epicenter of a political and ethnic conflict involving its neighbors to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, and has long been embroiled in violence.
The region's humanitarian crisis involves 2.6 million internally displaced people, the United Nations says, with 6.4 million people in need of food and emergency aid.
Nearly 20,000 troops are deployed in the Democratic Republic of Congo as part of the MONUSCO peacekeeping force.