COLOMBO, July 29 (AFP) - A Scandinavian force monitoring a truce between Sri Lanka's government and Tamil Tiger rebels Monday admonished the guerrillas over their recruitment of child soldiers.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission in a statement expressed hope that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) "live up to the expectations for just governance and responsibility as regards child recruitment."
In May 1998, the LTTE leadership told the United Nations it would not use children under 18 in combat.
But the monitors on July 8 had said they had received 44 complaints that the LTTE had forcibly conscripted or recruited children into their ranks since a ceasefire went into effect February 23.
The monitors' statement came after a Sri Lankan human rights group accused the mission of failing to secure the release of a single child recruit from the Tigers.
The mission is "in part responsible for misjudgements that have enabled the LTTE to widen the scope of child conscription under the cover of peace", University Teachers for Human Rights said last week.
The Sri Lankan government on Saturday held its first ministerial-level talks with the Tigers under the ceasefire, at a meeting in London. The two sides are expected to hold formal negotiations in late August or September in Thailand.
The monitors said the Norwegian-brokered peace process was showing signs of success.
"Both parties look at war as a thing of the past. The government and the LTTE are steadfastly preparing for peace," the monitors' statement said.
The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission is a 44-member team drawn from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
Associated Press, Mon July 22, 2002 10:50 EDT . SHIMALI SENANAYAKE - Associated Press Writer - COLOMBO, Sri Lanka - (AP) A Sri Lankan human rights group on Monday accused Tamil rebels of using a cease-fire to forcibly recruit children as soldiers and criticized Norway-led truce monitors for not doing enough to stop the practice. The group, founded by teachers in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna in 1998, keeps track of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka - 's north and east.
It went on to accuse European truce monitors of being ``in part responsible for misjudgments that have enabled the LTT (or Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam) to widen the scope of child conscription under the cover of peace.''
But Teitur Torkelsson, spokesman for the European mission overseeing a Feb. 22 cease-fire between the government and rebels, said ``under the truce agreement the monitors have no authority to punish or take action against those found guilty of forcibly recruiting children.''
``We record at least two complaints daily of forcible recruitment of children. ... It has been the most common complaint,'' Torkelsson said.
Children are being forced to join the Tamil Tigers mostly in eastern areas like Ampara and Batticaloa, he said.
There was no immediate response from the rebels.
The Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate homeland, saying Sri Lanka - 's 3.2 million minority Tamils are being discriminated against by the majority Sinhalese.
More than 64,500 people have died in the 19-year conflict.
Human rights groups and the government have often accused the Tamil Tigers of forcing families to send their children to join the rebel ranks.
An Amnesty International team that visited Sri Lanka - last month also accused the insurgents of using children as guerrillas, despite a pledge made to U.N. Undersecretary-General Olara Otunnu in 1998. Otunnu is expected to visit the island next month.
Frederica Jansz in Colombo, 9.45 a.m. SLT Monday July 22. Hot on the heels of a group of sea Tigers abducting two Scandinavian born ceasefire monitors, the Jaffna University Teachers Human Rights organization has made public another, hard-hitting report which severely criticizes the Tigers for continuing to abduct and conscript children to their armed cadre.
As a result of these incidents of forced conscription, this report asserts, the confidence the Tamil people living in Sri Lanka's north and east had in the LTTE is severely dented. The report has come out a month ahead of the visit of Olara Otunnu, the UN's Special Rapporteur for Children and Armed Conflict, who, is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka in August.
During Ottunu's last visit to Sri Lanka in 1998, the Tigers promised him they would refrain from forcing children to join their rebel outfit.
Scandinavian born ceasefire monitors too confirmed that many Tamil parents visit their offices in the Island's north and east begging them to intervene and bring their children back to them after they have been kidnapped by the LTTE.
The Sri Lanka Army's Security Forces Commander for Jaffna, Major General Sarath Fonseka reiterated to 'Lacnet' that the forced conscription of children by the LTTE is continuing on a large scale. He said, he is besieged by, Tamil parents who weep at his feet, begging the army to somehow secure the release of their children from the grip of the Tigers.
The Sri Lanka government appears to be avoiding addressing this issue publicly and has so far refrained from doing so apparently accepting the Tigers statements in this regard that they have stopped recruiting cadre below 18 years of age.
The Jaffna Teachers for Human Rights in its report released on Saturday July 20,2002, have also slammed the Sri Lankan and the Norwegian Government for treating this issue with kid gloves.
Meanwhile, opposition parliamentarians have also begun to voice their suspicion that the LTTE are misleading the government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe while seriously violating terms and conditions in the Ceasefire Agreement.
Shantha Premaratne Member of Parliament for the main opposition Peoples Alliance confided that the PA is, "deeply worried the Tigers are only buying time to establish an administrative state in Sri Lanka's northern peninsula before pulling the rug from beneath the feet of the government."
Tiger Chief Vellupillai Prabhakaran appears to be already creating a shadow Tamil state, separate to that of the Sri Lankan Government. Last week the LTTE placed newspaper advertisements in Jaffna, calling for Tamil people to apply to the Tigers police force.
The rebel outfit has also increased its political activity in the country's north and east. The LTTE now runs its own bus service along the A9 highway and openly taxes travellers and residents of the north and east, maintaining the money is necessary for the LTTE to smoothly run its operation.
Thursday, 20 June, 2002, 17:33 GMT 18:33 UK
Young Tamils in refugee camps are most at risk
By Frances Harrison
BBC correspondent in Colombo
The United Nations children's agency says it has received fresh assurances from Tamil Tiger separatists in Sri Lanka that they will not recruit children under the age of 18.
Human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Tigers of recruiting boys and girls as young as 12.
Unicef says it has managed to get more than 60 demobilised throughout the last year.
This is by no means the first time the Tamil Tigers have promised not to recruit child soldiers.
Four years ago, the rebels promised the UN special representative for children and armed conflict they would not recruit anyone under the age of 17.
But at the end of last year, for example, human rights groups like Amnesty International, said the Tigers had recruited several hundred children in just a few months, sometimes using coercion.
What is different about this renewed commitment by the Tigers is that for the first time in years, outsiders now have access to rebel territory because of the peace process.
If the Tigers fail to live up to their assurance this time, the world will not only be watching, but aid workers, diplomats and journalists will be visiting them to ask what went wrong.
And for the first time, Amnesty officials are currently visiting rebel areas to discuss the issue of child recruitment, among others.
In this atmosphere, Unicef says it wants to keep the issue alive.
It plans to run a centralised database of cases of alleged child recruitment based on complaints by parents and local aid organisations.
It says it will continue to try and secure the release of underage soldiers.
A human rights group in Sri Lanka says the ceasefire between the government and Tamil Tiger separatists is allowing the rebels to forcibly recruit more child soldiers, despite the Tigers' promise not to use underage combatants.
The University Teachers for Human Rights group said in a report, that the five-month cessation of violence had enabled Tiger guerillas to enter previously inaccessible urban areas.
The report said that rebels were frequently demanding one child from each household, particularly in the eastern Batticaloa region.
The Tamil Tigers have repeatedly denied the use of child soldiers, and assured the United Nations Children's Fund last month that no one under the age of 18 would be recruited.
The human rights group, Amnesty International, has warned that the forcible recruitment of children has continued despite the ceasefire, and called for more to be done to stop the practice.
From the newsroom of the BBC World Service .
[ SUNDAY, JULY 21, 2002 4:12:50 PM ]
COLOMBO: In yet another damning indictment of the Liberation Tigers, a human rights group of Tamil university teachers has reported on extensive conscription of children in eastern Sri Lanka, rampant extortion from the people and use of terror against Muslims.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR-Jaffna), in its latest report released on Saturday, chronicled continuing instances of children being whisked away from homes, schools and temples by LTTE recruiters.
It spoke of more attempts by these involuntary recruits to escape, resulting in "brutal punishment" and, in the case of a few, death by torture. The group noticed a spurt in child conscription, contrary to LTTE's assurances to the global community and to Amnesty International last month.
The arrival of LTTE intelligence chief Pottu Amman, wanted by India along with V Prabhakaran for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, in Batticaloa district on April 24, has given a big thrust to the conscription drive, it said.
"The mounting problem of escaping conscripts makes a cruel mockery of LTTE's claim to be a people's movement or the people's sole representatives," it said adding LTTE's measures against escapees are becoming markedly more harsh and cruel.
The UTHR report assailed the Government and Norwegian peace facilitators for pursuing a "crude" peace process, with no commitment to justice and truth, and criticised the Scandinavian ceasefire monitoring mission for not doing enough to address mounting human rights concerns.
Olara Otunnu, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who extracted a promise from LTTE they would not use children in combat, is due here next month.
COLOMBO: A Sri Lankan rights group has charged Pottu
Amman, a Tamil Tiger guerrilla wanted in India, with conscripting children in
the east despite a Norwegian-monitored truce.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) said Pottu Amman was spearheading a campaign in the island's Batticaloa region to swell the ranks of the group with youngsters of 16 and below.
Pottu Amman is the feared intelligence chief of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which seeks a homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka's north and east.
Both Pottu Amman - which is a nom de guerre -- and LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran are wanted in India for the 1991 assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi by a woman suicide bomber.
Following Pottu Amman's arrival in Batticaloa in late April, there has been a sharp increase in conscription," the report said. "Once more... there are press gangs visiting schools and villages and hauling away screaming children in tractor-trailers."
Media reports said he had crossed from the north of the island to the east in April under the cover of the truce deal which allows rebels freedom to move into areas in the government's control.
"The presence of Pottu Amman (in the east) makes it abundantly clear that conscription is being orchestrated from the top," the UTHR alleged. Pottu Amman is among the few in the LTTE who take orders directly from Prabhakaran.
The accusations come ahead of a visit in the next few weeks by Olara Otunnu, the U.N.'s Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict.
The report describes the trauma of hundreds of children torn from their families and holed up in rebel training camps.
"In the camp there were children in the age group 12-14 years under training. Those who express feelings of missing home or wanting their mother are mercilessly beaten."
The UTHR, which is headed by a Tamil, said some children had been killed during live firing exercises and their bodies buried. "They are understood as having the status of 'martyrs'!"
The defence ministry has been reporting lately that children escaping from the Tigers have sought shelter in police stations and military camps.
Last month, six girls, aged between 13 and 14 years, fled a Tiger training camp and turned themselves in to police in Sittanday in Batticaloa. They claimed they were among 80 child soldiers being trained for combat, police said.
Unicef and Amnesty International, the London-based rights watchdog, have repeatedly lambasted the LTTE for breaking a pledge given to Otunnu in 1998 to halt the conscription of children.
In its report, the group has also slammed foreign monitors supervising the landmark truce between the government and the LTTE that was concluded in February.
The truce, arranged by broker Norway, is part of confidence-building measures taken to smooth the way ahead of peace talks with the guerrillas who have been fighting for nearly two decades for a separate state. About 60,000 people have died in the conflict.
"The credibility of the peace process hinges on the issue of child conscription because all that is palpably going wrong is intimately linked to it," the UTHR said.
"The strength of the Norwegian role lies in a realisation by the LTTE that it is in a hostile international climate with limited options," it said, saying Oslo should specifically prohibit child recruitment in the truce deal.
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