By Alan Johnston
The Tigers are accused of forcing civilians to fight
Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have been accused of dramatically stepping up their forced recruitment of young people.
The allegation comes in a new Human Rights Watch report that paints a bleak picture of life under Tiger rule.
It says the rebels are compelling civilians to do dangerous labouring jobs close to the frontlines.
And its says that their restrictions on movement have trapped hundreds-of-thousands of people in the war zone.
"Human Rights Watch research shows that the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] has brutally and systematically abused the Tamil population on whose behalf they claim to fight," says the report.
This comes at a time when the Tigers are under increasing military pressure as a sustained army offensive gradually shrinks the amount of territory under rebel control.
The government has ordered the United Nations and almost all international humanitarian agencies out of the Tiger-held Vanni region, and Human Rights Watch says that this has drastically worsened the plight of civilians there.
The organisation concedes that restrictions on access to the area have prevented it from being able to paint a full picture of the situation.
But it says it was able to conduct more than 30 interviews with witnesses and aid workers over the past few months, and that it has extensive evidence of abuses.
"The LTTE continue to systematically compel young men and women, including children, to join their forces, and have dramatically increased their forced recruitment," the report says.
It says that the Tigers only used to demand that one person per family enter its ranks. But it now sometimes requires two or more.
And Human Rights Watch believes that the recruitment of children under 18 may be on the increase, with the Tigers using schools and displaced person camps to encourage children to join the fighters.
In addition the report accuses the Tigers of using forced labour.
It talks of people being compelled to dig trenches and build military bunkers.
"It also uses forced labour as punishment, often forcing family members of civilians who flee to perform dangerous labour," says the report.
On top of this Human Rights Watch says that the rebels have shut down a system under which it issued passes for travel.
Victims of shelling in rebel-held Kilinochchi hospital
It says that this has effectively banned nearly all civilians from leaving the territory under their control - trapping them in an increasingly hazardous conflict zone.
The report concludes that the situation is worsened by the government's policy of detaining those who flee from the Vanni.
Human Rights Watch says that this policy has made many civilians fearful of seeking safety in government-held areas.
There has been no response to the report as yet from the Tigers.