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UNICEF confirms death of two child soldiers in LTTE fighting

UNICEF calls on the LTTE to ensure released child soldiers are not re-recruited

COLOMBO, 16 April 2004 – UNICEF has confirmed the tragic deaths of two child soldiers in the LTTE fighting that took place in Sri Lanka’s east last week. The children were 17 and 18 year old girls. The 18 year old had been in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since August 2001 when she was just 16. Both girls were in Kanuna’s cadre at the time of their death, but while any child soldiers remain in the LTTE they are also at risk.

The families of the two girls are grieving the senseless loss of their young daughters. In the wake of this tragedy, UNICEF calls on the LTTE to free the remaining child soldiers in the organization, including those in the north, and to make a commitment to not re-recruit any of the children released in the past week.

“I would like to send our condolences to the families of the children killed in the recent fighting,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “Children should never be recruited or accepted voluntarily into military organizations. Even now in a time of relative peace in Sri Lanka, children have been sent to the front lines and have died there.”

“This can not be tolerated,” he added. “All people must take a stand on this issue and protect children from this type of terrible tragedy.”

On Tuesday 13 April, the LTTE formally released 209 children and UNICEF assisted in reunifying them with their families. However, many more children returned home of their own accord. So far, UNICEF has confirmed that 259 children have returned home to their families. But, this number could continue to climb as UNICEF and its partners trace the children over the coming weeks.

UNICEF is working to register all of the children that have left the LTTE in the past week. This includes handing out leaflets and airing radio announcements to get families to alert UNICEF that their children have come home. UNICEF and its partners will then work to monitor all of the children to ensure that they are kept safe and that any re-recruitment or harassment is reported immediately and rectified.

UNICEF says the LTTE must commit itself to not re-recruiting any of the children that have left the organization in the wake of last weeks fighting, and that they continue the process of releasing the children in their ranks.

“The events of the past week and the deaths of these children underline exactly why there must be an end to child recruitment in Sri Lanka,” said Mr. Chaiban. “The LTTE can not allow any re-recruitment of children by its regional cadres, and the large scale release of child soldiers must also happen in the north so we never have a tragedy like this again.”

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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
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva +41 22 909 5716
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York HQ +1-212-326-7426




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