UNICEF calls on Sri Lankan fighting faction to stop using children as soldiers
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today voiced concern about a paramilitary group which sides with the Government of Sri Lanka against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels that the agency believes is not living up to public assurances to eschew recruitment of children as soldiers to fight in the country’s bloody civil conflict.
Although the so-called Karuna faction – which split from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and now supports Government troops – denies that it is actively enlisting children as soldiers, UNICEF says there are consistent reports that contradict this.
After returning from a mission last week to a conflict area where the Karuna group was supposed to provide UNICEF access to a camp, the agency’s head of protection in Sri Lanka, Andrew Brooks, described the level of cooperation as “stalemated.”
“We seriously question whether the Karuna group is acting in good faith,” he said in the capital, Colombo.
“Our supposed cooperation is obscured by the faction’s apparent determination to delay, frustrate, and mislead the process to end the use of children as combatants in this country’s conflict.”
Last week’s assessment was intended to be the first of regular inspection of known locations of the Karuna faction and its political offshoot, known as the TMVP, to verify that no children are being used as soldiers.
However, the leader of the UN team reported that he had been led to hastily created mock site in a jungle area, and despite the Karuna group’s repeated promises to fully cooperate, requests by the world body to inspect known locations were spurned.
After a UN fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka last November, the faction’s leader, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as “Colonel Karuna,” reassured the UN that his group would cooperate in efforts to curtail child combatant recruitment.
Despite these assurances, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned in a report to the Security Council in January that “a particularly disconcerting development during the reporting period was the increase in abductions and recruitment of children in the east by the Karuna faction.” The report also cited the Sri Lankan army’s complicity in the group’s efforts to enlist children.
“Unfortunately, despite exhaustive approaches to the Karuna group and TMVP officials since then, the few children they’re released falls well short of the public commitments they’ve made,” Mr. Brooks said. “We continue to receive reports of children being recruited.”
According to UNICEF, as of the end of last month, out of the 285 children known to have been recruited as soldiers by the Karuna faction, there were 194 outstanding cases.