Elements of Sri Lanka’s security forces are helping a breakaway rebel group abduct children to fight the separatist Tamil Tigers, while the rebels themselves continue to use child soldiers in their conflict against the Government, a United Nations adviser has said after a 10-day assessment mission to the strife-torn country.
“It is increasingly clear that children are at risk from all sides,” Allan Rock, the Special Adviser to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on Sri Lanka said yesterday.
The so-called Karuna faction continues to abduct children in Government-controlled areas of the East, particularly Batticaloa district, the mission said in a statement. Since May of this year, 135 cases of under-age recruitment by abduction have been reported to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “with evidence that this trend is accelerating,” it added.
“The mission also discovered a disturbing development involving the Karuna abductions. It found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the Government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children by the Karuna faction.”
Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse assured Mr. Rock that he will order an “immediate and thorough investigation” into the allegations and if they are proved correct, he will “hold accountable those who are responsible.”
Karuna’s political wing also said it would forbid under-age recruitment and release any children who may now be in its ranks, adding it would also work with UNICEF and arrange the release of those abducted children whose families have complained to the agency.
The mission also found that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have “not complied” with their commitments under the Action Plan to stop child recruitment and release all the children within their ranks.
“Under-age recruitment continues and the LTTE have yet to release several hundred children as verified by UNICEF.” The Action Plan was endorsed by the Government and the LTTE during peace talks in 2002 and 2003 to work with UNICEF to end the recruitment of children and to release under-age recruits.
The LTTE also assured Mr. Rock that they would “immediately” start working with UNICEF to speed up the release of all child soldiers, “with the objective of completing that process by January 1, 2007,” the mission said.
“Wherever I travelled, I saw with my own eyes that systems meant to safeguard children’s rights are either deteriorating or absent. It is apparent that there is an urgent need for an independent monitoring capacity to ensure that children affected by the conflict are protected,” said Mr. Rock.
Apart from the issues of child recruitment and abductions, the mission also observed the deteriorating humanitarian situation in certain areas of the North and East. In particular, during his visits to Vaharai and Jaffna, Mr. Rock saw first hand the fear, isolation and critical unmet needs of internally displaced children there.
Fighting between Government forces and the LTTE has intensified since April, and especially over the past few weeks, despite a ceasefire agreed in 2002 aimed at ending a conflict that has lasted for more than 20 years and claimed some 60,000 lives.