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Sri Lanka separatists recruiting child soldiers

UN agency calls on Sri Lanka separatists to stop recruiting child soldiers

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) today urged Tamil separatists in strife-torn Sri Lanka to stop recruiting child soldiers and release those already in their ranks.

In a press statement, UNICEF said it had expressed its concerns to officials from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) over the weekend, and had also called on both sides in the conflict on the island to reaffirm their commitment to a ceasefire.

“While recruitment of children in the last six months declined to an average of 43 a month, only 79 children were released and reunited with their families during the same period,” said Ms. JoAnna VanGerpen, UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka.

“While recruitment of children has been reduced and the average age of recruitment has increased from 14 to 16 over the past four years, recruitment of even one child is unacceptable, according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” she added.

Since January 2002, UNICEF has recorded 5,368 cases of reported child recruitment in Sri Lanka.

The statement said that UNICEF is mandated by Sri Lanka’s Government and the LTTE to monitor child rights violations. Child recruitment is a serious violation of international law and UNICEF, together with the international community, advocates that all parties unite against under-age recruitment.

Violence between the Government and LTTE has eased in recent weeks after both sides agreed to hold talks later this month, the first direct discussions between the two since April, 2003.

A ceasefire agreement of February 2002 is aimed at ending two decades of fighting between the Government and separatist forces that has claimed some 60,000 lives.

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