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Close to 150 child soldiers released by the LTTE

UNICEF to assist former child soldiers to be reunited with their families

COLOMBO, 13 April 2004 – UNICEF facilitated the release of nearly 150 former child soldiers by the LTTE today in Vakkarai in Sri Lanka’s eastern region. While UNICEF is still working to confirm the total number of children being released, so far the agency has met and registered over 100 children.

“UNICEF welcomes the release of these children and will provide support to them and their families to make reintegrating back into their communities as smooth as possible,” said Mr Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka.

“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,” he added.

UNICEF says that potentially hundreds of other child soldiers from the eastern region have also given up arms and are returning home of their own accord. UNICEF asks that all parents who have children return directly to them contact UNICEF so that the agency can assess the condition of the children and provide follow up assistance with their reintegration.

This latest demobilization is the single biggest formal release of child soldiers by the LTTE.

“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” stated Mr Chaiban.

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

“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. 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,” said Mr Chaiban.

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

“UNICEF and partners under the Action Plan will follow up with the children on a regular basis to make sure that their transition from a military organization to family life is a smooth one,” said Mr Chaiban.

Partners under the Action Plan include the International Labour Organization (ILO), Ministry of Social Welfare, Save the Children in Sri Lanka, the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

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For further information, please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Sri Lanka +94-777-416-742
Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office +977-1-441-7082
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York HQ +1-212-326-7426




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