In Sri Lanka the Tamil Tigers announce the release of 135 child soldiers and promise not to kidnap more children
There are still around 2,000 child soldiers who fight with the separatist Tamil
Tigers group in northern Sri Lanka. Last week the independent Tamil Tiger fighters
let it be known that they had released 135 underage enlisted soldiers from the
front lines in the last six months. According to the UN Security Council and UNICEF
there are still 1,591 children placed with the Tigers and a further 198 with the
dissident group 'Karuna'.
The UN speaks up.
"The latest report from the UN Secretary General for Sri Lanka last December
referred to the continuous increase in kidnappings and forced enrolment by the
Liberation Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE), despite previous promises”, claimed J. M.
de la Sabliére, head of a group analysing child soldiers at the Security Council,
which in May denounced the attitude of the separatist group, in conflict with
the Colombo government for 30 years, to the AP agency. On 10th May (the first
date of the recent releases), a UNICEF report counted another 1634 minors conscripted
by force to the Tigers, and a further 198 enforced by the dissident group ‘Karuna’,
founded from a division of the early group in 2004. This stood up until the announcement
of the latest releases, followed by the promise to lay down the weapons of every
minor by the end of 2007.
Defining a ‘minor’
. A ‘child’ soldier still needs to be defined, given that 17 years old is the
youngest age of enrolment in the Tigers. Yet with the latest releases they have
also sent home children aged between 17 and 18, in theory accepting 18 as the
minimum age limit for an adult. “We are welcoming huge progress carried out in
discussions with LTTE”, said Gordon Weiss, UNICEF spokesperson. “For example,
when they accept international standards for the minimum age. Work still needs
to be done, up until the last enlisted child soldier. It’s very important that
the Tigers are finally admitting to having child soldiers, and that they have
taken on the task of letting them go. Yet until the last underage fighter returns
home, we cannot say that the Tigers are accepting international conventions”.
Someone is turning a blind eye
. The strongest disagreement however, lies in the significance of child soldiers.
What has been registered first of all is Karuna’s total lack of response to accept
UN controls for correct combatants and soldiers, for ‘Security reasons and the
safety of UN officials’, confirms spokesman Azad Mulina.
Meanwhile the Tigers have provided completely different figures from those supplied
by the UN: “We have only received 20 protests on behalf of parents who want their
children back, and we are trying to understand where this discrepancy has come
from”. The declaration came from military spokesman Tigri Rasiah Illanthariyan,
which according to the UN calculation does not include soldiers who are not fighting
on the front line, and certainly not those kidnapped as minors who remain in the
military. According to the UN there are 1085 young Tigers enlisted by force and
there are still many in uniform once they reach adulthood. And they should all
be released. According to UNICEF, the numbers of those released will never be
attainable. “At times we run a control on the names taken by rebels and it works
out that weeks later the Tigers return to recapture children sent home”, comments
Gian Luca Ursini