Sunday, May 31, 2009

'I'm only 16. They gave me a rifle. It was heavy. They said we had to go forward. If we came back, they would shoot us'

by Gethin Chamberlain, The Observer, Guardian, UK.

Tamil children as young as 11 were forced at gunpoint to fight for the Tigers in Sri Lanka's civil war. Survivors talked of their ordeal to Gethin Chamberlain in Ambepusse

Darchiga Kuken, a former Tamil Tiger child soldier interned at the Ambepusse rehabilitation centre after escaping from the rebels. Photograph: Gethin Chamberlain.

Darchiga Kuken was sheltering in a bunker in the Mullaitivu area when a group of about 20 Tamil Tiger soldiers arrived and demanded that she went with them.

"I was sick with chicken pox. My mother and father were screaming and crying, saying that I was sick and pleading with them not to take me," she said. The men went away. And then at 5pm on 14 March they came back. They called me to come out and then they grabbed me and put me in a jeep. I started to cry. I was shouting: 'Mother, father, help me.' "

The 16-year-old is now being held in what the government describes as a "rehabilitation centre", a jungle camp built on a hillside outside the town of Ambepusse in the south of the country. Here children like her, who were forced to fight on the front line in the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka, gave the Observer compelling evidence of war crimes committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The camp currently houses 95 children, with another 200 on their way from internment camps around the town of Vavuniya in the north of the country.

Despite international concerns over the treatment of LTTE suspects, the children appeared to be well treated and were able to speak freely when the Observer visited the camp on Thursday. The most distressing sight was a young boy howling in pain on the floor of one of the huts; his friends said that he had recently arrived and still had a piece of shrapnel lodged in his skull from the recent fighting.

The accounts of these boys and girls who surrendered to the Sri Lankan army were shocking. They say they were dragged screaming from their families and sent into action with only a few days of basic training. The older members of the LTTE warned them to keep firing and advancing, or they would be shot by their own side from behind.

Those who did try to escape said they were fired on by their own side. Children who were recaptured had their hair shaved off to mark them as deserters and boys were beaten.

>> Full Story: Guardian