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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 11:56 GMT
Tamils march against independence day
Elite commandos march during a ceremony to mark Sri Lankas 54th independence celebration in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, Feb. 4, 2002.
Last year's celebrations came shortly before a cease-fire

Thousands of people in Sri Lanka's northern town of Vavuniya have protested against independence day celebrations planned for Tuesday.

I wish to make a special appeal to the LTTE: Please do not recruit children for armed conflict

Sri Lankan President Kumaratunga
Reports say about 3,000 students took part in the demonstration which was inspired, if not directly organised, by Tamil Tiger rebels.

The protesters said independence day was a sorrowful day for Tamils who still did not live in freedom.

They called for troops to leave residential and agricultural areas as well as schools in the north.

Black flags

Although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are now engaged in peace talks with the government, they have taken the unusual step of using front organisations to call for a boycott of independence day celebrations in the north-east

In the town of Jaffna, the rebels have used several educational organisations to call on people to observe a day of mourning on independence day by hoisting black flags and wearing black arm bands.

And reports say hundreds of Tamil school children who were supposed to have travelled to the south to participate in the ceremonies on Tuesday have been prevented from doing so by the rebels.

In previous years when they were still at war, the Tigers did not interfere with official independence day functions in government-controlled territory, though the public generally stayed away in protest.

Peace fears

It may be that this year the Tigers want to remind the government that improvements in living conditions have been slow to come and many urgent humanitarian problems in the north-east have still to be addressed.

But there is a risk that this approach will harden feelings in the south, where there is a growing fear even among supporters of the peace process that the rebels may not be sincere.

In the meantime, President Chandrika Kumaratunga has issued a national day message which says it is time for Sri Lankans to put the war behind them.

But she adds that there are disturbing reports of continuing recruitment of child soldiers by the rebels and other human rights violations.

She has made a special appeal to the Tamil Tigers not to recruit children for war, saying they are too precious.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

24 Jan 03 | South Asia
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