Sri Lanka: Armed groups continue abducting and recruiting children – Child Rights Information Networ

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[NEW YORK, 29 March 2007] – Despite promises to investigate abductions of
children by the pro-government Karuna group, Sri Lankan authorities have
taken no effective action and abductions continue, Human Rights Watch said
today. The armed opposition Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also
continue to recruit children in Sri Lanka and use them as soldiers.

In Sri Lanka’s eastern Batticaloa district, Human Rights Watch in February
witnessed children clearly under the age of 17, some armed with assault
rifles, performing guard duty at various offices of the Karuna group’s
political party, the Thamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP). Sri Lankan
soldiers and police routinely walked and drove by the children without
taking any visible action.

Human Rights Watch saw a child with an assault rifle guarding the TMVP
office in Kiran, home town of the group’s leader, V. Muralitharan, also
known as Colonel Karuna. Other children, some of them armed, were seen in
and around TMVP offices in the district, including in Valaichchenai and
Morakkottanchenai, where the office is across the road from a Sri Lankan
army base.

“When government troops at a military base look across the street at
children standing guard at a Karuna office and do nothing, it’s hard to
believe the government is taking any meaningful steps to end this abuse,”
said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Karuna group’s
use of child soldiers with state complicity is more blatant today than ever

President Mahinda Rajapakse and other Sri Lankan officials have repeatedly
said that the government would investigate the allegations of state
complicity in Karuna abductions and hold accountable any member of the
security forces found to have violated the law. To date, however, the
government has taken no effective steps.

According to UNICEF, there were 45 reported cases of Karuna child abductions
in three months – 10 in December, 24 in January, and 11 in February. Among
these were three children abducted by Karuna cadre from camps for internally
displaced persons in Batticaloa district. The actual number is likely to be
higher because many parents are afraid to report cases, and these numbers do
not reflect the forced recruitment by the Karuna group of young men over 17.

The Karuna group has released at least a dozen children since December.
According to UNICEF, however, at least three of the released children were
subsequently re-recruited.

In February, parents of one abducted child and two abducted young men told
Human Rights Watch how Karuna cadre had abducted their sons in recent weeks.
In the first case, Karuna group members first abducted the child in July,
allowed him home for a family visit, and about one week later came and took
him back. In the second, Karuna cadre abducted two young men on the A11 road
between Welikanda and Valaichchenai. When relatives of the two complained at
the nearby Karuna camp in Karapola, Karuna cadre told them not to report the
case – or to say the LTTE took their sons.

At the same time, the LTTE has continued to abduct and forcibly recruit
children and young adults, including women and girls, Human Rights Watch
said. UNICEF documented 19 cases of LTTE child recruitment in January and
nine in February. The LTTE has also abducted at least four people from camps
for the internally displaced.

Access to LTTE-controlled areas remains difficult, but credible reports
indicate that the group is increasingly recruiting and deploying girls as
frontline soldiers in the East. In the recent fighting in the Thoppigala
region of Batticaloa district, at least three girls fighting with the LTTE
were reportedly killed.

Human Rights Watch has repeatedly documented and condemned the use of child
soldiers by the LTTE, and it has called on the United Nations to impose
targeted sanctions on the LTTE because of its long history of recruiting
children in violation of international law.

“The LTTE is a notorious repeat offender of child recruitment,” Adams said.
“It’s a shame that government forces complicit with the Karuna group are now
involved in the same ugly practice.”

There is strong evidence that government forces are now openly cooperating
with the Karuna group despite its illegal activities, Human Rights Watch
said. Armed Karuna members regularly walk or ride throughout Batticaloa
district in plain view of government forces.

In February, Human Rights Watch saw a Karuna commander named Jeyam riding
atop a Sri Lankan armored personnel vehicle outside Valaichchenai. In
Batticaloa town, residents have seen Karuna cadre patrolling jointly with
the police.

The Karuna group maintains at least five camps in the jungle about 10
kilometres northwest of Welikanda town in the Polonnaruwa district, about 50
kilometres northwest of Batticaloa town. Welikanda is where the Sri Lankan
Army’s 23rd division has its base. The area is firmly under government
control, as is the main A11 road from the eastern districts to the Welikanda
area. The Karuna camp at Mutugalla village is near a Sri Lankan army post.

Independent sources have provided detailed information on abductions and
recruitment of children by the Karuna group and the LTTE. In February the UN
special adviser on children and armed conflict, Allan Rock, reported to the
Security Council on Karuna abductions of children with state complicity and
on child recruitment by the LTTE, based on his visit to Sri Lanka in
November. Human Rights Watch has provided the government with its 100-page
report on Karuna abductions, Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in
Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group, published in January.
With case studies, maps and photographs, the report shows how Karuna cadres
operate with impunity in government-controlled areas, abducting boys and
young men, training them in camps, and deploying them for combat.

“The government says it needs evidence to start an investigation, but it
already has ample information,” Adams said. “In addition to UN documentation
and testimonies in our report, many families have made formal complaints to
the police.”

Last year President Rajapakse created a one-man commission to look at
abductions and enforced disappearances across the country. The commissioner
came to Batticaloa in January, two months after canceling his first
scheduled visit without warning. Families with abducted children were
informed in a haphazard manner and then could not find the meeting place,
which was changed at the last minute. Some of them did meet the
commissioner, but his staff prevented others from providing information.

In December the military summoned the mothers of some children abducted by
the Karuna group to an army base and asked them to provide information about
their cases. The military pressured the mothers to say that their children
were taken by “an unidentified group.”

Karuna has denied allegations that his forces are abducting or recruiting
children. He told Human Rights Watch in a telephone communication on
February 9 that his forces had no members under age 18, and that they would
discipline any commander who tried to recruit a person under that age.

In January the TMVP released regulations for its military wing, stating that
18 was the minimum age for recruitment, and specifying penalties for members
who conscript children. Karuna said he was willing to discuss ways that the
regulations could be improved, but said that unscheduled visits to his camps
were not possible due to security concerns.

On March 19, Human Rights Watch wrote to the TMVP, requesting a response to
the recent allegations of continued child abductions in Batticaloa district.
As of March 28, the TMVP had not replied.

“The Karuna group is doing the government’s dirty work,” Adams said. “It’s
time for authorities in Colombo to stop this group from using children in
its forces.”

Further information:
a.. Human Rights Watch: Complicit in Crime: State collusion in abductions
and child recruitment by the Karuna group (January 2007)
b.. Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Sri
Lanka (17 January 2007)
c.. CRIN's news page on Sri Lanka

Visit: http://www.crin.org/resources/infoDetail.asp?ID=12933&flag=news

To read the Alliance Development Trust work among IPS's visit www.adtlanka.org