Sri Lankan government accused over child soldiers

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The Independent Online

The United Nations yesterday accused the Sri Lankan military of helping an armed group to recruit children as fighters against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

The UN said in a statement that it "found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children by the Karuna faction."

A splinter group of Tamil Tiger rebels that broke away in 2004 now calls itself "Karuna Faction" after its leader. The UN said the group has abducted 135 children since May in eastern Batticaloa district with "evidence that this trend is accelerating."

"Based on the evidence as a whole, the mission concluded that some government security forces are actively participating in these criminal acts."

In the same statement, the UN also said Tamil Tiger rebels have not only reneged on their earlier promise to release all child combatants already identified by the United Nations Children's Fund, but they continue to recruit underaged combatants.

The comments come after a 10-day observation mission by Allan Rock, the adviser to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on Sri Lanka.

While the military in a statement denied the allegations as "completely misleading," it also said the comments "deserve a deep sense of revulsion and explanation in view of their serious nature and repercussions."

The military "vehemently denies having any involvement whatsoever with the LTTE breakaway group for abductions in Batticaloa," it said in a statement, using the acronym for the main rebel group's formal name, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Though child rights groups and the UN have long accused the Tigers of recruiting children during their more than two-decades of separatist campaign, this is the first such allegation against the government by a high profile representative.

Tamil Tigers have fought the government since 1983 demanding a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese-dominated state.

More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before a 2002 cease-fire.

But renewed fighting has killed more than 2,000 people this year, even though both sides claim to honor the truce.

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