|Sri Lanka Govt seeks UN assistance to ensure release of children held by LTTE|
|Wednesday, 10 September 2008|
Statement by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, during the Interactive Dialogue following the statement of Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.
Sri Lanka thanks the Special Representative for her yeoman service with regard to the protection of children victimized by armed conflict. In particular, I think Sri Lanka owes the commitment of the LTTE last October to raise their minimum age of recruitment to 18, as she notes in her Annual Report, to her forthright condemnation last year, at this very forum, of LTTE violation of national and international law in that respect. Previously, due to what seemed indulgence by UNICEF, the LTTE had insisted that 17 was possible. The escape into Sri Lankan government custody of a 17 year old girl who had been forcibly conscripted suggests that old habits die hard, but Sri Lanka has no doubt that, working together with the Special Representative, we shall be able to rid Sri Lanka of this scourge very soon.
We would also like to note that, whilst we understand the hangover from a visit a couple of years back of what has been termed the Karuna faction, in Annex II of her report, that faction no longer exists. The mention instead of the political party, the TMVP, in the main body of the report, better reflects the current position. When it split from the LTTE in 2004, the former Karuna faction released all children who had earlier been recruited by the LTTE. However subsequent rerecruitment by the LTTE, well documented by UNICEF statistics, led a year or two later to what the Karuna faction termed ‘protective custody’. This in itself may not have been acceptable, but certainly there was no question at all of such youngsters being used in combat.
Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy,
Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict
Once the LTTE threat was removed from the Eastern Province, the government was able to work together with the confidence of the TMVP, the political party that is the successor to the former Karuna faction, to ensure the release of all children. We have also sought assistance with training to ensure a decent future for these unfortunate victims, and we welcome the interest of countries such as Japan in such initiatives. Last year, there was some residual distrust of UNICEF on the part of the TMVP, but following last year’s categorical declaration by the Special Representative and new leadership of UNICEF in Colombo, that distrust has been dissipated, and as the Special Representative noted recently, over 40 children were released.
The TMVP has no knowledge of any others, but the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation is working with UNICEF to check all records and trace any other victims as possible. We anticipate that this exercise will be concluded soon. Meanwhile, in line with the government’s policy of zero tolerance regarding the abhorrent practice of children being used in armed conflict, we are seeking to ensure the release of all children still held by the LTTE, still being trained and still being used, as the recent escape made clear. We look forward to the assistance of the Special Representative in this regard. Whilst we appreciate the massive problems elsewhere that must take up the bulk of her attention, we also hope that she will contribute to the coherent programmes of rehabilitation that the last paragraph of her very moving statement indicates should be an essential part of her mandate.
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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