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UNICEF urges end to recruitment of child soldiers in Sri Lanka

UNICEF urges end to recruitment of child soldiers in Sri Lanka

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today urged the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka to live up to its commitment not to recruit children into its ranks, and encouraged the Government to ease restrictions on humanitarian activity and address the critical shortage of teachers in conflict areas.

"UNICEF calls for a much more vigorous and transparent response than has been shown thus far," the agency's Executive Director, Carol Bellamy, said in a statement, warning that the conflict in Sri Lanka continued to cause immense suffering and violations of children's rights. "After 18 years of continuous strife, a generation of young people across the country has been robbed of a normal childhood. And tragically, conditions for children are worsening."

Referring to a 1998 visit to Sri Lanka by Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, the UNICEF chief said the envoy had obtained assurances from both the Government and the LTTE that gave hope for an improvement in the situation of children, particularly in terms of limiting child recruitment, and improving education and access by relief organizations. "Despite one or two encouraging signs, there has been little demonstrable progress on any of these problems," Ms. Bellamy said. "The overall situation of children has continued to deteriorate."

UNICEF called on the LTTE to adhere to all commitments made concerning recruitment, and to go even further by adhering to the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that prohibits recruitment under the age of 18 years. It urged the Government to liberalize the current constraints to humanitarian access, to resolve the acute teacher shortage in the areas worst affected by the conflict and to remove military presence from schools.

The UNICEF chief also urged all Sri Lankans abroad with influence on the situation in their country of origin to express their support for all measures to eradicate the twin issues of recruitment and school drop-out.

"An overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans, especially children, want peace," Ms. Bellamy said. "Their hopes have been dashed by the recent stalling of peace initiatives facilitated by Norway, and the resumption of fighting. UNICEF calls on all parties to renew and re-double their efforts to find peace, the most precious right of every child in Sri Lanka."