UNICEF says that the LTTE, otherwise known as the Tamil Tigers, are conscripting children caught in the conflict around their northern Sri Lankan base.
“We have clear indications that the LTTE has intensified forcible recruitment of civilians and that children as young as 14 years old are now being targeted,” said Mr Philippe Duamelle, UNICEF’s Representative in Sri Lanka. “These children are facing immediate danger and their lives are at great risk. Their recruitment is intolerable.”
Meanwhile, The UN Country Team for Sri Lanka condemned both the LTTE and Government for violating the so-called “safe zones” in the northern Vanni region, where there is a high concentration of civilian non-combatants. In a statement the country team also worried that the LTTE were effectively holding civilians and UN staff hostage.
The LTTE continues to actively prevent people leaving, and reports indicate that a growing number of people trying to leave have been shot and sometimes killed. There are indications that children as young as 14 are being recruited into the ranks of the LTTE. [Empasis mine]
Fifteen United Nations staff and 75 of their dependents, 40 of whom are children, and 35 of whom are women, remain in the same area, having also been prevented from leaving by the LTTE. Fifteen of these children have contracted respiratory diseases, a serious indicator for a population which is now in dire need of humanitarian assistance.
We are acutely aware that the suffering of our own UN staff and dependents is just one part of a much larger picture. However their release would be a good gesture and would strengthen the capacity of the UN to assist the tens of thousands of people both inside the Vanni pocket, and the approximately 30,000 IDPs who have left for government held areas.
The LTTE insurgency seems to be in its last throes. They are a pretty odious group who brought to the world the phenomenon of suicide bombing. That said, the Sri Lankan government’s counter-insurgency has often placed civilians in LTTE areas at high risk.
Civilians have born the brunt of this conflict for the last 20 years. Even in what seems to be the war’s final days, that sad fact has not changed.