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Rights Groups Releases List Of Children Allegedly Recruited

Amnesty International yesterday released a list of 13 children between the ages of 12 and 16 it suspects have been forcibly recruited as soldiers by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, despite a truce with government forces.

The announcement comes after a Sri Lankan human rights group, University Teachers for Human Rights, earlier this month charged the LTTE with intensifying conscription of children (Agence France-Presse, Feb. 15).

Releasing names, ages and circumstances under which the children allegedly disappeared in Sri Lanka's rebel-controlled northern and eastern regions, Amnesty expressed concern for their safety and called on the rebels for their release.

Among the children listed is a 12-year-old girl who was last seen near a bus stand. The United Nations and other rights groups have also accused the rebels of recruiting children, but the rebels deny these accusations.

"It is still our wish to see that we are not maligned further by reports and rumors that our organization is forcing youth to join," said Sivagnanam Karikalan, deputy leader of the LTTE's political wing.

He was quoted on the TamilNet Web site, which gives the Tamil perspective of the civil war (Dilip Ganguly, Associated Press, Feb. 15).

Sri Lankan presidential spokeswoman Harm Peiris said there had been a reduction in the conscription of child soldiers by the LTTE since President Chandrika Kumaratunga earlier this month accused the rebels of using the current truce to strengthen their forces (Kyodo News Agency, Feb. 14).

This week, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative for children and armed conflict, Olara Otunnu, said he knows "for a fact" that recruitment of child soldiers continues to be practiced by the LTTE, contrary to a promise the rebel group made to him in 1998 (UN Wire, Feb. 12).

The rebel group has been fighting for nearly two decades for a separate homeland, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 60,000 people on both sides of the conflict. Kumaratunga expressed optimism for the current Norwegian-brokered peace process, and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said he hoped direct negotiations between the government and LTTE would begin next month .


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