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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Sri Lanka: Children still forced to fight for Tamil Tigers

Colombo, 20 July (IRIN): For four years, R. Ganesh and his wife Lakshmi have held out hope that one day they would see their son safely return to his home in Trincomalee District in eastern Sri Lanka. Lakshmi has hardly stopped crying since the day her only child, Jeggan, then nine years old, was taken away by members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and forcibly recruited as a soldier.

Jeggan was abducted on 14 December 2002 by four LTTE soldiers, dressed in combat uniforms, who forced their way into the family’s house.

“They stuck guns to our foreheads and told us not to scream,” Lakshmi told IRIN. “They blindfolded the three of us and told us that we had to fight for the Tamil struggle,” she added. “They then took my son away and we have not seen him since.”

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in 2002 between the government and the LTTE, child recruitment has continued by the LTTE and the Karuna faction, which broke away from the LTTE in 2004, according to JoAnna van Gerpen, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Sri Lanka representative.

Since 2001, the LTTE has forcibly recruited more than 5,700 child combatants, according to UNICEF, of whom only 1,958 have been released. UNICEF also said that as of 31 May 2007, there were 198 outstanding cases of underage recruitment by the Karuna group, with only 60 released to date.

Since Jeggan’s abduction, his parents have lodged complaints with UNICEF and the Trincomalee Police but he has still not been found.

“He will be 14 this October,” Lakshmi said. “But I do not know if he is still alive. I pray to God he is.”

Hundreds of other parents in the conflict-ridden northern and eastern districts of Sri Lanka continue to hope for the safe return of their children. Exact numbers of forced recruits are hard to determine as many families do not register the abductions, according to humanitarian agencies.

Some children as young as seven or eight have been taken, according to UNICEF. Out of the 1,591 outstanding cases of underage recruitment by the LTTE, 506 are younger than 18.

Families living in fear

Despite a fresh pledge by the LTTE in June to rid its ranks of child soldiers by the end of 2007 and Karuna protestations that it was not involved in child recruitment at all, parents in the eastern and northern districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna remain unconvinced.

“We are scared to sleep at night as we do not know when our children will be taken away,” 48-year-old Jeyaraja Kandasamy from Jaffna, who has two sons, age 12 and 14, told IRIN. He said many other parents have similar fears.

“The war is continuing despite both the government and the LTTE claiming that the ceasefire agreement is in existence,” said L. Kumaraswamy, a resident of Vavuniya. “We do not know what to expect in the future, but we fear our children are not safe here.

“The LTTE has made so many pledges that they will not make our children fight, but they have continued with their abductions,” Kumraswamy said. “Where are we to go? We won’t just give our children away,” he added.

The LTTE, classified as one of the world’s worst offenders in the recruitment of child soldiers, made similar pledges to rid its ranks of children in 1998 and 2006, but is still accused of recruiting children younger than 18 by both the UN and human rights organisations, as is Karuna.

Andy Brooks, chief of the child protection section of UNICEF in Sri Lanka, told IRIN that a psychosis of fear had developed among children and parents in the north and east. “People are afraid. Parents fear for themselves and the lives of their children,” Brook said. “Every child has to be protected and freed from the military struggle.”

- Asian Tribune -

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