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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 11:22 GMT
Tiger rebels 'dragoon Tamil teenagers'
LTTE guerrillas on the beach
Guerrillas are building up forces during the cease-fire
By the BBC's Frances Harrison in Colombo

Reports from eastern Sri Lanka say Tamil Tiger rebels there are taking advantage of the current ceasefire with the government to step up forced recruitment of teenagers for their war effort.

Local people also say there has been a marked increase in extortion and abduction for ransom by the rebels.

The moves have raised tension and caused some families to consider moving out of the area to protect their children.

Tiger bomb attack
There has been no violence for more than a month

Most people in the east are too scared to say anything publicly.

But it is clear the local rebel commanders have started coming into government-controlled areas for recruitment.

They are taking advantage of the current ceasefire to move around in Batticaloa district, visiting families and demanding that they give at least one child to the movement.

Community leaders say the Tamil Tigers are forcibly conscripting young boys and girls who look fit enough to fight from families who had previously fled rebel territory, precisely to avoid such an eventuality.

Tamil fears

There are also reports throughout the east of Sri Lanka of increased extortion by the rebels, sometimes of sums up to the equivalent of $1,000.

Local people say the rebels are now demanding that teachers and government officials pay 12% of their salary as an unofficial tax, as opposed to five percent previously.

In one town in Trincomalee district, shops and offices closed in protest at what they said was increased extortion by the Tamil Tigers.

What is not clear is whether the rebel leadership in the north of Sri Lanka is fully aware of what their cadres in the east are doing.

The Catholic bishop of Mannar, in north-western Sri Lanka, says he informed the leader of the Tamil Tigers political wing, Mr SP Tamilselvan, last week about the increased conscription and extortion.

It is his understanding that Mr Tamilselvan, who is currently involved in peace negotiations with the government, was surprised to hear what was going on.

The issue is a very serious one, as it threatens to undermine what the government says is the last chance for peace in Sri Lanka.

And it is causing alarm among Tamil civilians who say they increasingly fear the rebels who claim to be their sole representatives.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Spartan life under Tamil Tigers
30 Jan 02 | South Asia
Future of Tigers 'in the army'
29 Jan 02 | South Asia
Up close with the Tamil Tigers
23 Jan 02 | South Asia
The scars of Sri Lanka's war
21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka rebels release war prisoners
21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Sri Lanka matches Tigers ceasefire
16 Jan 02 | South Asia
In the Tamil Tiger heartland
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