Saturday, April 25, 2009

Sri Lanka rebels forcing children to fight, says UN

Children as young as 12 are being given guns and forced to fight on the frontline alongside desperate Tamil Tiger rebels cornered inside Sri Lanka’s no-fire zone, the UN said today (April 25).

Those forcibly recruited included the 16-year-old daughter of a member of the UN staff, who had stayed inside the narrow strip of coast where the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is making its last stand.

Gordon Weiss, the UN spokesman in Sri Lanka, said there had been credible reports of clashes between LTTE members and families on the beaches who had tried to prevent their children being taken. Some of those who resisted had been beaten or shot, he said.

“They are sitting there on the sand and groups of armed LTTE come along and demand a member of the family joins them. They ask for one or two children and they are running around grabbing people,” Weiss said.

“They have been taking children as young as 12, handing them a gun and marching them off and putting them to work. They are not being seen again by their families.”

As the fighting intensifies, the LTTE is running short of experienced fighters and is relying once again on children to boost its numbers.

Weiss said many children living in areas controlled by the LTTE before the latest offensive received military training as part of their schooling. He added that the 16-year-old UN family member had now managed to escape from the fighting.

The Sri Lankan government said that close to 200,000 people were now either inside the internment camps it had set up outside the no-fire zone, or were emerging from the combat area.

UN sources said today they believed that, despite the exodus, as many as 150,000 people may remain inside the no-fire zone.

In a statement, the foreign ministers of the G8 countries today demanded that both sides take all necessary actions to prevent further civilian deaths.

According to official UN figures, at least 2,000 people are believed to have died in the fighting in the last month, although this figure does not include all of those killed in this week’s intense fighting. Yesterday two UN officials privately confirmed that the civilian death toll since January 20 is close to 6,500. Thousands more have been injured.

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