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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 15:08 GMT
Sri Lanka child recruitment falls
Two Sri Lankan children playing
Children have less to fear than they used to, monitors say
More than 300 child soldiers were recruited in Sri Lanka last year by Tamil Tiger rebels, international ceasefire monitors say.

A clear downward trend in the number of ruled ceasefire violations can be seen in the last months of 2002

Monitors' statement
But a spokesman for the Scandinavian monitoring team said recent months had shown a clear downward trend in child recruitment and other ceasefire violations by both sides.

The rebels are currently involved in peace talks with the government.

A ceasefire signed last February has held for almost a year - the longest period of calm in two decades of fighting.

A spokesman for Sri Lanka's president took issue with the monitors' figures, saying the rebels had recruited thousands of children in the last year.

Under-age fighters

The Sri Lanka monitoring team says the overall trend has been a decreasing number of violations and complaints.

It says throughout last year it investigated and upheld 556 ceasefire violations.

Group of child soldiers in Sri Lanka
Children under 18 have been recruited for years
It says the vast bulk of them - some 500 - were perpetrated by the rebel side.

According to the monitors, the most common ceasefire violation was the recruitment of male and female fighters under 18 years by the Tamil Tigers.

Most of these cases relate to recruitment that took place in 2002, mainly in Batticaloa and Jaffna, though some complaints refer to earlier recruitment.

A spokesman for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the rebels had nearly triped their forces since the ceasefire.

"Over 10,000 children have been abducted and forced into the armed cadres in the last year," Harim Peiris told reporters in the capital, Colombo.

But he said the president continued to support a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Abductions

The monitors also say there were nearly 90 cases of abduction of adults by the rebels last year.

On the government side, the most common violations by the military were harassment, extortion and restriction of movement.

Overall, the monitoring mission says it is a positive development that, on average, complaints of child recruitment, for example, by the rebels have halved in recent months.

But they say the problem has not been eradicated - this month has already seen 20 complaints by parents that their children have been recruited by the rebel movement.

And the monitoring mission says last month saw a sudden increase on the east coast of abduction of relatives of trained fighters who had run away from the Tigers.

At the same time, the picture has been complicated by the Tigers returning some children who try to enlist - something the monitors say has increasingly been taking place in the last six weeks.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

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TALKING POINT
See also:

22 Jan 03 | South Asia
01 Oct 02 | South Asia
20 Jun 02 | South Asia
25 Mar 02 | Science/Nature
11 Feb 02 | In Depth
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