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Children being caught up in recruitment drive in north east

UNICEF says children are being indiscriminately recruited by the LTTE, which is violating commitments it made one year ago to end all child recruitment

COLOMBO, 26 June 2004 – After promising signs in April that the LTTE was taking seriously its pledge to release the children in its ranks, recruitment has been accelerated in recent weeks, including of children under the age of 18.

Since the start of April, UNICEF has received 159 reports of children being recruited by the LTTE, mostly in the North of the country. However, the East has also been affected by this and in Batticaloa and Ampara districts there have been 26 cases of new recruitment and 30 cases of re-recruitment in the past six weeks.

In April, the LTTE officially released 269 children and expressed a willingness to provide formal release letters for over 1,300 other children who went home when Karuna disbanded his cadres.

“The April returns were a big step forward by the LTTE. However, this has been completely undermined by continued recruitment of new children over the past couple of months,” said Mr. Chaiban, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “This can not continue any longer. These children must be released immediately and steps taken at the highest levels of the LTTE to ensure children are no longer taken by the organization,” he continued.

In June 2003, the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE jointly signed the Action Plan for Children Affected by War. The Action Plan was designed to provide development assistance to the North and East aimed at increasing opportunities for children to access education, quality health care, and skills training. One of the commitments made by the LTTE under the Action Plan was that they would stop recruiting children into its ranks, whether voluntarily or through coercion.

“The LTTE has not lived up to its commitment to end once and for all the practice of taking children into its ranks,” said Mr. Chaiban. “A real and genuine effort must be made to exclude children from their recruitment drives. They must respect the commitments they have made.”

“UNICEF has repeatedly asked the LTTE to release all the children in its ranks,” said Mr. Chaiban. “We have also asked the LTTE to take a few simple steps such as ensuring that radio and trishaw announcements and pamphlets calling for recruitment specifically state that no one under the age of 18 will be accepted into the organization and that they require proof of age from all volunteers to ensure that no one under the age of 18 is recruited.”

“None of these steps have been taken. These are easy things the LTTE could be doing to show the world they take the issue of child recruitment seriously,” he added.

“This lack of cooperation has been very unfortunate, as the Action Plan has been successful in reuniting former child soldiers with their families and bringing much needed aid to children affected by the war,” Mr. Chaiban said.

Since the beginning of this initiative, 998 children have been formally released by the LTTE. Over 32,000 children, including former child recruits, have enrolled in schools in the North East under UNICEF Catch-Up education programmes, and hundreds more have registered with their Departments of Education and will begin studies soon.

“The Action Plan has yielded real results for children in the North and East. It has provided a genuine mechanism for demobilizing children from the LTTE, as well as supporting other children made vulnerable by years of conflict,” said Mr. Chaiban. 

But parents and children remain afraid of recruitment, particularly in the East, and this has complicated efforts by international organizations to provide services to children, many of whom are too scared to take part in educational activities or vocational training.

“Without making it very clear that no one under 18 will be accepted, the LTTE has opened itself up to international criticism that it is targeting children in its recruitment campaign,” he added. “Unfortunately, their actions over the past two months have proven this to be true.”

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For further information, please contact:
Geoffrey Keele, UNICEF Sri Lanka +94-777-416-742 gkeele@unicef.org
Martin Dawes, UNICEF Regional Office +977-1-441-7082 mdawes@unicef.org
Damien Personnaz, UNICEF Geneva +41 22 909 5716 dpersonnaz@unicef.org
Gordon Weiss, UNICEF New York HQ +1-212-326-7426 gweiss@unicef.org




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