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Champika Liyanaarachchi,OneWorld South Asia
COLOMBO, Jan 20 (OWSA) - Despite assurances to the contrary, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is said to have inducted 333 child soldiers during the eleven month old ceasefire, with international truce monitors alleging the real figure could be four times higher.
"This is about 25 per cent of the real number," claimed Hagrup Halkland,
deputy chief of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), set up to monitor the
ceasefire between government troops and LTTE rebels in the south Asian nation
in February. The SLMM comprises representatives from the Scandinavian countries
of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
Halkland said an overwhelming majority of cases went unreported as relatives of the abducted avoided lodging complaints with the SLMM for fear of being harassed by the LTTE.
According to military intelligence reports, roughly 35 to 40 per cent of the 15,000 strong LTTE cadres are estimated to be below 18 years.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR) based in the war-torn northern province of Jaffna, lambasted the Sri Lankan government and international human rights watchdogs for turning a blind eye to this grave violation of child rights. According to UTHR's latest report, every child above the age of 12 in the LTTE controlled areas is forced to undergo military training.
The report has documented several cases as proof of the inhuman methods employed by the LTTE. Prominent amongst these is that of Ramu, 17 from the eastern province of Batticaloa who was forced to undergo rigorous training despite being handicapped by an artificial leg.
Priyadarshani, 16 from Vellavelly in Batticaloa, was abducted a few days after the ceasefire agreement was signed. Earlier her elder sister was stabbed to death by the LTTE for helping her brother escape from the Tigers.
Krishnakumar, 17 was abducted on October 19, 2001 along with several other children and dispatched to the Periyavedduvan training camp in northern Veppavedduvan. Here he underwent training alongwith 250 others. Krishnakumar said almost 90 per cent of the trainees were below 18. The training was completed on March 18, 2002.
Krishnakumar escaped to his home from the LTTE camp on May 18. Two days later LTTE men arrived in a tractor and reportedly attacked him with rods in the presence of his parents. He was then taken back to the camp.
Once there, each of the trainees present was ordered to lash the trussed up Krishnakumar with a wire whip. After about 50 lashes, the lad fainted and was carried away. As a result of the brutal treatment he received, Krishnakumar's right shoulder was badly injured, while his hand appeared to be dislocated. He also suffered injuries on his hands and legs.
On the night of June 4, the intrepid Krishnakumar fled the camp hospital while others were busy watching television. Narrowly evading a search party, he limped home by 1 am on June 5.
Meanwhile three girls Radipa Thangiah, 11, Shaskikal Thevanayaagam, 11 and Thamilchelvi Krishnapillai, 10 escaped with four others from an LTTE camp in the interior of Batticaloa on December 6, 2002.
While the other four were recaptured by the LTTE, the trio managed to escape to a nearby village where villagers disguised them as Muslim girls and handed them over to the Sri Lankan Army. The three children are now safely back home. They had been abducted by the LTTE while returning from school in late September.
Apart from them, quite a large number of children had joined the LTTE voluntarily after school enrolment visits by the LTTE.
"Because of their age, immaturity and curiosity and love for adventure children are susceptible to Pied Piper enticement through a variety of psychological methods," said Prof Daya Somasundaram in Jaffna University's psychiatry department.
He said public displays of war paraphernalia, posters of heroes, speeches, videos and heroic songs invoked feelings of patriotism in their impressionable minds, creating a martyr cult.
When questioned by the media, chief negotiator of the LTTE, Anton Balasingham flatly denied charges of child recruitment. "We have stopped recruiting minors since the ceasefire agreement came into effect" he declared.
On June 20, 2002, UNICEF (news - web sites) had announced that the LTTE had given a fresh assurance to discontinue recruiting anyone under the age of 18.
The deputy chief of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission, maintained however that the rebels were continuing with their child recruitment drive and the reported cases were just " the tip of the iceberg."
Recruitment of children into their cadres has been customary with the Tamil Tigers ever since fighting erupted here, but was institutionalized in the early 1990s.
In 1998 the UN Secretary General's Special representative for Children in the Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu obtained a similar commitment from the Tigers on a visit to Sri Lanka. However Otunnu's call was again ignored and the LTTE continued with its child recruitment program.
One world net
By V.S. Sambandan
COLOMBO JAN. 20. The Sri Lankan ceasefire is entering its 12th month in a few days but the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) continues to face charges of abduction of political rivals, with the "apparent complicity" of state forces and the "silence" of civil society.
The University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna (UTHR-J), a civil society group that has been monitoring human rights during the past two decades, has observed that ground-level developments pointed to the "consolidation of a totalitarian political ethos".
In its latest report, which focuses on the eastern situation, it observed that "though the guns are silent", the consolidation of the peace process "is in practice being equated with the entrenchment of the LTTE and its political ideology". Rather than "solving problems", this was "exacerbating existing ones".
Touching upon the volatile but crucial issue of relations with the Muslims, the UTHR-J said: "The LTTE's innate compulsions have already placed it irreversibly on a collision course with the Muslims and are furthering a climate of bitterness rather that of multi-ethnic harmony". It may be recalled that the issue of including a separate Muslim delegation at the talks has been postponed with the Tigers taking the position that political unity among the Muslims must precede a representation. This position has come under criticism by the Muslim leadership, which has said that the LTTE was playing the same card that Governments in the past used against the Tamil community.
The UTHR-J also listed instances of abductions of political rivals and child
conscription by the LTTE and said the Tigers' "stranglehold" over
the Tamil community "will not allow a happier drift of events".
Civil society groups in the south were also criticised on the ground that they had "failed to hold the Government accountable for the harm it is doing to the Tamil community". In addition, "by failing to hold the LTTE accountable, they have cynically discounted any role for the Tamil people in the peace process".
The UTHR-J, which was formed in 1988 at the University of Jaffna, moved out of the peninsula after one of its founding members, Rajani Thiranagama, was killed, reportedly by the LTTE in 1989.
The organisation also criticised the state forces for not arresting two persons connected with the alleged murder of a political leader belonging to a party opposed to the LTTE. Terming the present developments as "consolidating a totalitarian political ethos", it observed that doing so "to sustain the peace process is an attack on democracy and consequently on all other aspects of human rights".
The UTHR-J's bulletin comes at a time when human rights issues are coming to the centrestage of the negotiation process. During the next session of talks, to be held next month in Thailand, Colombo and the LTTE will be joined by Ian Martin, former secretary-general of Amnesty International. The LTTE has taken the position that human rights would have to be seen as one that involved the collective rights of the Tamils.
Bishop criticises LTTE
The Bishop for Trincomalee and Batticaloa, Kingsley Swamipillai, has warned the LTTE that if it did not stop abduction and child conscription, he would take up the issue with international human rights organisations, media reports said.
The Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission has said that abductions were continuing and that it had informed the LTTE that unless they were stopped, it would make public the figures.
Hindu 21st January 2003
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