Monday, July 31, 2006

LTTE holding 5,000 children in combat camps

Credible evidence has emerged that the LTTE are holding about 5,000 children in combat camps.
In 2004 alone, the LTTE recruited 1,000 children.
According to the latest human rights reports, children abducted from schools and homes are held in LTTE camps where they undergo training in guerilla combat and prepare for deadly missions such as suicide bombings.
The escalation of tension between the LTTE and security forces in recent months has led to an intensified drive by the Tigers to recruit children, which in turn is forcing hundreds of families to flee their homes, the reports say.
In response to the LTTE's continued conscription of children, Buddhist monks, saree-clad women and men carrying children's coffins will be among the hundreds of demonstrators expected to rally on August 5 from 10 a.m. to noon outside the Federal Building in Westwood, CA to demand that UNICEF take action to bring the leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to face charges for war crimes against children.
Rallying under the banner of the local expatriate activist group 'Sri Lankan Patriots,' protesters will launch a worldwide petition calling on UNICEF Director Ann M. Veneman to follow the United Nations' own resolutions and to invoke international laws such as the Rome Statute to bring the Tiger leaders before the International Criminal Court for conscripting children as combatants.
An online petition has already been launched.
Spokesperson for the group Hassina Leelarathna said that as the world's leading children's organisation UNICEF has failed in its attempts for over a decade to stop the recruitment of children in the island's North and East from the LTTE.
The UN agency is also accused of compromising the welfare of the children by cooperating with the LTTE - a view shared by the leading rights group Human Rights Watch.
"Every year UNICEF officials make a trip to Sri Lanka and extract a promise from the rebels that they will free the children. A token few are released, only to be re-abducted. A few weeks ago, even as UNICEF was making its annual plea, the Tigers stepped up their recruitment drive, taking dozens of children away from their parents."
Leelarathna, who is the editor of the bi-weekly newspaper 'Sri Lanka Express', said the arrest by the ICC in March of this year of Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga Dyilo for war crimes, including the conscription and enlisting of children under 15, is a turning point.
This is the first such arrest by the ICC and it opens the door for the arrest and prosecution of leaders of all militant groups who use children to fight wars.
"There is overwhelming evidence that the LTTE has conscripted children, some as young as ten, including tsunami victims, and we are demanding that UNICEF take the steps needed to bring the LTTE before the International Court, so similar punitive action may be taken against this group that has openly flouted international norms for the past twenty years," she said.
The Rome Statute, under which the ICC was established, requires that a state government or the United Nations Security Council refer the 'situation' to the ICC prosecutor for a criminal investigation to commence.
Ven. Apareke Punyasiri of the Maithri Buddhist Meditation Center in Sun Valley, California said the August 5 rally is being organised in the face of the LTTE's intensified recruitment drive in recent weeks. "We cannot ignore the plight of hundreds of Sri Lankan children. It is urgent that we act now," he said.
He said copies of the petition will also be circulated among US leaders to create awareness of the problem.
"The petition drive and protests will continue for as long as we have children being used as combatants and suicide bombers," he added.
Courtesy- Daily News (31st July)

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