Friday, March 6, 2009

Tamil Tigers conscripting child soldiers: UNICEF

Sri Lanka's cornered Tamil Tiger rebels have intensified conscription of child soldiers, some as young as 14, the United Nations agency for children says.

UNICEF said in a statement that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had stepped up recruitment of the children as the rebels prepare to take a last stand against advancing government forces.

"We have clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted," said Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF's chief in Sri Lanka.

The Tigers have recruited more than 6,000 child soldiers since 2002, he added.

Meanwhile the Tigers lashed out at the UN after it accused them of shooting civilians who try to escape the island's bloody ethnic conflict.

The UN said the Tigers have detained tens of thousands of non-combatants inside rebel-held territory and have "shot and sometimes killed" those crossing the battle lines to seek safety.

A front organisation for the rebels, who have been cornered in the jungle by government troops, countered the allegations by saying the United Nations had failed in its duty to protect innocent people.

The UN was "withdrawing even the remaining few local staff from the conflict zone [and] completely shedding its responsibility of caring for the civilians trapped here," said the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO).

The statement, released on the pro-rebel website Tamilnet, came after the UN said that "a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed".

The TRO, which is outlawed in several countries, including the US, said the UN had levelled its harsh criticisms to hide "their own failures".

Tiger leaders have always denied charges that their fighters kill civilians or hold them as "human shields".

ABC News