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Cablegate: Unicef Sees Decline in Ltte Recruiment of Children

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A


1. (U) The recruitment of child soldiers by the Liberation
Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE) has significantly and steadily
declined since January, according to reports received by the
United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The LTTE recently
renewed its promise to halt underage recruiting in a June 18
meeting with the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anne Veneman.
It is unclear whether the decrease in child recruitment
signals a new effort by the LTTE to respond to international
pressure or if fewer parents are reporting the recruitment
of their children to UNICEF. A real decline in LTTE child
recruitment would be a striking improvement in human rights
for the children of Sri Lanka and could signal a Tiger bid
to burnish its respectability in the international
community. End summary.


2. (SBU) There has been a marked decline in the number of
reports UNICEF has received regarding child recruitment by
the LTTE this year. According to UNICEF figures, the LTTE
recruited 156 children in the first five months of this
year, including nine children from tsunami relief camps.
This is noticeably less than the 440 boys and girls enlisted
during the corresponding period in 2003 and the 400
recruited in January through May of last year, as noted in a
UNICEF press release. UNICEF bases its information on
verifiable reports received primarily from parents. [Note:
UNICEF estimates that it receives reports of only 30% of the
actual total cases of underage recruitment.] Christine
Watkins, UNICEF Project Officer, told poloffs in a June 15
meeting that there is often a lag in reports of recruitment
and releases so it is difficult to know precisely the amount
of children serving in the LTTE at a given period in time.
Watkins told poloffs that recruitment tends to be cyclical,
with an increase in enlistment every three to four months
that tapers off, corresponding to the beginning of new LTTE
training sessions. There remain 1,174 total outstanding
cases of child soldier recruitment reported to UNICEF.

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3. (U) The Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, met
with LTTE political wing leader, S.P. Thamilselvam on June
18 to discuss the enlistment of underage cadres by the LTTE.
Thamilselvam renewed the LTTE promise to halt the
recruitment of children and reassured Veneman of the rebel
group's willingness to cooperate with UNICEF to meet this
objective. (The Tigers have long held that all the children
serving in the LTTE join voluntarily, and that it cannot
turn them away, saying that these children come from abusive
families or are malnourished.) The Tamil Tigers have
recruited fewer children this year due to international
pressure, according to a UNICEF press statement following
the June 18 meeting.


4. (SBU) UNICEF Officer Watkins was unsure of the reason
for the decline. However, she believes that improved
monitoring and public awareness may play a role. For
example, Watkins told us that the most popular place to
recruit underage cadres is at temple festivals. UNICEF and
other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been
teaming up to deter LTTE child recruitment at these
religious events, she explained. As a result, the number of
children enlisted by the LTTE at temple festivals has been
reportedly reduced to zero, Watkins informed poloff.

5. (SBU) Watkins noted that the majority of reports of
underage recruitment UNICEF receives come from government-
controlled areas. She suggested fear of the LTTE and
inadequate local transportation as partial reasons that
fewer parents in rebel-controlled areas complain to UNICEF.
6. (SBU) The LTTE claims that it has released all of its
known child soldiers, but states that some of its enlistees
do not have birth certificates. Watkins remarked that the
roster of LTTE child soldiers is incomplete and inaccurate,
which creates difficulty for UNICEF as it works to verify
those released or serving as Tigers. UNICEF will only take
a reported recruit off its list if it can verify the release
through confirmation by recruits or their family members
during home visits. Watkins told us that the transit center
for former LTTE child soldiers in Killinochchi has been
closed since few underage cadres are directly released to
UNICEF, while the other two transit centers never opened.
UNICEF was meeting with other concerned groups on June 15 to
discuss alternative uses for the transit centers. Watkins
predicts the transit centers may be used for vocational

7. (SBU) Anne Killingstad, Program Manager at Save the
Children, said it is difficult to tell if the recent decline
in LTTE child recruitment will continue. In a June 16
meeting, she told us that the LTTE has been relatively well
organized in its post-tsunami efforts, particularly in
Mullaitivu, where UNICEF received no reports of child
recruitment in May.

8. (SBU) Hagrup Haukland, Chief of Mission of the Sri
Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), said to poloff in a June 21
conversation that it is difficult to draw any conclusions
about the recent decline in reports received by UNICEF.
SLMM has also seen a substantial decline in reports this
year in comparison to last year, according to SLMM
statistics. In January to May, SLMM received 74 complaints,
while in this same period in 2004 SLMM received 173
recruitment cases. The number of verified child
recruitments and abductions is approximately the same
proportion to the number of reports received in the first
five months of both 2004 and 2005. This suggests that
although fewer reports have been filed in 2005,
approximately the same ratio of LTTE abductions and
recruitments are carried out as before.

9. (SBU) Yasantha Kodagoda, Senior State Counsel of the
Attorney General's Office in Colombo, told us that according
to reports issued by parents of child soldiers to senior
police officers and the Special Task Force in the East,
child recruitment by the LTTE has only minimally decreased.
He believes that the decrease in reports to UNICEF by
parents is due to two different reasons. First, parents are
less concerned that their children will be killed as members
of the LTTE since the LTTE is not currently engaged in armed
conflict; thus, they are not complaining. Second, he
speculated, the Tamil Tigers have more time to suppress any
adults who would challenge their child recruiting practices
since the rebel group is not actively fighting the Sri Lanka
Army (SLA).


10. (SBU) Undoubtedly, the number of reported recruitments
of underage cadres has always been less than the actual
total of LTTE child recruits. There is not enough
information at this time to draw any conclusions as to
whether the enlistment of underage cadres has actually
declined or whether (and why) fewer parents are reporting
the recruitment of their children if underage enlistment has
not decreased. We will continue to support UNICEF and other
groups in their efforts to monitor child recruitment and to
get the LTTE to honor its 2003 agreement with UNICEF to turn
over all child soldiers and desist from further recruitment.

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