UN reports largest release so far of child soldiers by Sri Lanka’s Tamil rebels

14 April 2004

In the single biggest formal release of child soldiers by Sri Lanka’s main rebel Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has facilitated the return of nearly 150 children out of the hundreds and possibly thousands still in rebel ranks.

In the single biggest formal release of child soldiers by Sri Lanka’s main rebel Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has facilitated the return of nearly 150 children out of the hundreds and possibly thousands still in rebel ranks.

“For too long these children have had to live as soldiers and have been denied the rights of other children to learn, play, and live in the security of a family environment,” UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka, Ted Chaiban, said after yesterday’s release in the eastern part of the Indian Ocean island.

Tamil separatists in the north and east have waged a two-decades-long war that has taken 60,000 lives and displaced millions of people. Peace talks between the government and LTTE have been under way for two years under the auspices of the Norwegian Government.

“Although we are very glad to see these children being reunited with their families, there are hundreds and possibly thousands more still in the ranks of the LTTE,” Mr. Chaiban said. “All of these children deserve to experience what these children are feeling today. The joy of meeting their families again. The joy of going home.”

UNICEF is still working to confirm the total number being released and has so far met and registered over 100 children. It said potentially hundreds of other child soldiers from the eastern region had also given up arms and were returning home of their own accord. It asked parents of such children to contact the UN agency so that it can assess their condition and provide follow up assistance for their reintegration.

“We hope that this large release of children is the beginning of a new trend by the LTTE towards the large-scale demobilization of child soldiers and meeting their commitments under the peace process and the Action Plan for Children Affected by War, which was approved by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE,” Mr. Chaiban said.

UNICEF said all of the children released were from the eastern region, and it called on the LTTE to begin releasing equal numbers of underage recruits from the northern cadres as well.

The agency has secured a mobile health clinic to provide any child that needs it with immediate medical care. It is also working with Save the Children to provide social workers to meet with the children and their families to support the reintegration process.

 

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