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Thursday, 30 January, 2003, 17:05 GMT
Tamil Tigers 'to return child soldiers'
Two Sri Lankan children playing
Children have less to fear than they used to, monitors say
Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels have agreed to return child soldiers, international peace monitors say.

The move comes as the head of the United Nations children's agency (Unicef) prepares to meet the Tigers.

Last week the monitors said the Tigers had recruited more than 300 children in the previous year, in spite of a ceasefire being in force.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga says the Tigers are continuing to build up their forces.

Meetings with parents

The issue of child soldiers is proving particularly sensitive for the Tamil Tigers.

On Tuesday, the rebels admitted they were still recruiting them, the peace monitors said.

Group of child soldiers in Sri Lanka
Monitors say progress is being made on child soldiers

But the Tigers' leaders blamed this on ill-disciplined junior members of the organisation.

Now the Tigers are reported as suggesting that "meetings will be held between parents of children" who have joined the Tigers, local Tiger leaders and the peace monitors.

"Whenever [the Tigers] comes across a case of actual under-age recruitment done by members of their organisation, the... local leadership will work to rectify the situation, " a statement issued by the monitors said.

It followed talks between the rebels, the monitors and Defence Secretary Austin Fernando in Batticaloa in the east of Sri Lanka.

The head of Unicef, Carol Bellamy is meeting members of the government on Thursday as part of a visit to the island.

She is due to travel to the north of the island to meet the rebels on Friday.

Tigers accused

Since Ranil Wickramasinghe became prime minister, the government and the rebels have agreed to a ceasefire and peace talks.

Sri Lankan women chatting together
Hope: Tamil and Sinhala mothers share a joke

The Tigers have also said they will negotiate for autonomy within Sri Lanka, rather than independence.

However, President Kumaratunga and her supporters have clashed with the prime minister over aspects of the peace process.

A presidential spokesman last week accused the Tigers of recruiting thousands of child soldiers since the ceasefire came into effect.

The Norwegian peace monitors, however, said the number of complaints of child recruitment had fallen.

Last February's ceasefire ushered in the longest period of calm in Sri Lanka in two decades of fighting.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

22 Jan 03 | South Asia
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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