Sri Lanka rebels, breakaway faction still abduct children to fight as soldiers: UN report

Sri Lanka rebels, breakaway faction still abduct children to fight as soldiers: UN report

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Sri Lankan children are being abducted to fight as soldiers in the bloody island conflict by separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and a breakaway group known as the Karuna faction, the Secretary-General has warned in his latest report to the Security Council, calling for an immediate end to the practice and recommending “targeted measures” in response.

Sri Lankan children are being abducted to fight as soldiers in the bloody island conflict by separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and a breakaway group known as the Karuna faction, the Secretary-General has warned in his latest report to the Security Council, calling for an immediate end to the practice and recommending “targeted measures” in response.

Commenting on the report, which was issued today along with another dealing with the problem in Nepal, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy, said both documents show the ongoing attempt by the world body to end the global scourge of recruiting children as soldiers, along with other violations of children in times of conflict.

The 20-page report covers the period from 1 November 2005 to 31 October 2006, and notes that over these 12 months, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) received reports of hundreds of children being recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and also Sri Lankan army involvement in recruitment of children by the Karuna faction.

“Despite previous commitments by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, that group continues to use and recruit children. In addition, a particularly disconcerting development during the reporting period was the increase in abductions and recruitment of children in the east by the Karuna faction, a breakaway group of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,” it states.

“Reports have also been received in Batticaloa District that on 14 and 26 June, Sri Lankan Army personnel carrying weapons, accompanied Karuna faction members who forcibly abducted and recruited nine children aged 14 (two children), 15 (one child) and 17 years (six children),” the document adds, referring to the eastern part of the island.

In outlining his recommendations, the Secretary-General reiterates his call for an immediate end to the conflict, which has already caused the deaths of more than 65,000 people in over 20 years, while stressing that any peace settlement must include provisions that “ensure the protection of children.”

“Although limited progress has been made in the release of some children from LTTE over the last three years, the refusal of LTTE to completely cease recruitment and use of children, release all children remaining on the UNICEF database and engage in transparent procedures for release and verification of demobilization warrants the undertaking of targeted measures against LTTE political and military leadership,” he writes.

He also calls for the Government to investigate immediately allegations that certain elements of the Sri Lanka security forces are involved in aiding the recruitment and/or abduction of children by the Karuna faction in the East, and invites UNICEF and other relevant agencies to help address the matter.

The Secretary-General also calls on all sides in the conflict to ensure open and safe access by humanitarian actors in Sri Lanka to affected areas, while maintaining the neutrality and security of schools, hospitals and religious institutions as “safe zones.”

The office of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict said the report will now be examined by the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict at its meeting next month, while Ms. Coomaraswamy told the UN News Service that the world body seeks a commitment from all sides to end violations against children.

“The reports are important because they are part of the UN family’s attempt to end impunity for crimes, especially grave violations against children, and especially that relating to the recruitment and use of children as child soldiers,” she said, referring to both documents.

“What we seek is commitment on behalf of the main parties to move swiftly and effectively, especially in the area of not recruiting child soldiers and to make commitments to UNICEF and other UN agencies for the immediate release of children under their charge, under an action plan.”

The UN has increasingly highlighted the problem of children and armed conflict over the past few months, and during last November’s day-long Security Council meeting on the issue, Ms. Coomaraswamy called for more to be done globally, while also noting that many peace agreements signed over the past few years have included child protection provisions and a framework for child demobilization.

“Despite these progressive developments many challenges remain and more action has to be taken to protect the interests of children trapped in situations of armed conflict. Though a great deal has been done in formulating standards and receiving commitments, the actual implementation on the ground is far from satisfactory,” she said then.

“So far the process of scrutiny and monitoring has been selective and focused on only a few countries. It is our belief, jointly shared with UNICEF and other partners, that we must expand the focus to all situations of armed conflict so that there is equal treatment of children regardless of where they live.”