Most missing Tamil children were recruited by LTTE : UNICEF


Ex-LTTE child soldiers

by Shamindra Ferdinando

A study spearheaded by UNICEF in collaboration with the Northern Provincial Department of Probation and Child Care and Government Agent of Vavuniya has revealed that the majority of complaints received from Tamil speaking parents related to children forcibly recruited by the LTTE.

Of 676 complaints regarding missing children, about 64 per cent related to ex-LTTE child soldiers. UNICEF has facilitated re-unification of 78 children with their families.

UNICEF says it launched the project in Dec. 2009 in response to a spate of tracing requests received since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. It believes in spite of difficulties in tracking down those listed missing, more children could be found and re-united with their families.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, in an exclusive interview with The Sunday Island expressed satisfaction that the UN agency had received the required assistance from the Northern Provincial administration. Those shedding crocodile tears for their personal and political gain should throw their weight behind the UNICEF effort to track down missing children, he said.

"We never interfered with the UNICEF-led Family Tracing and Reunification (FTR) project," he declared.

The following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: Who called for the inquiry?

A: UNICEF initiated the project in response to pleas by those trying to locate their children. Recently I had an opportunity to discuss the FTR project with the Colombo-based head of the UNICEF. We really appreciate their intervention and help to locate missing children over the years. In spite of a large scale poster campaign in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, UNICEF received 2,564 tracing applications, including 676 regarding missing children. The rest were adults. There’s no doubt that some of the missing adults were LTTE cadres.

Q: Did those looking for missing children come across any evidence to suggest they fought for the LTTE?

A: According to a UNICEF analysis, the vast majority of those listed as missing were between 16 and 18-years old. But the most important factor is that 64 per cent of those seeking to locate their children alleged the LTTE took them away during war.

Q: Had there been any cases investigated by the UNICEF relating to children missing before eruption of Eelam War IV in Aug. 2006?

A: Had there been a genuine attempt by international and local sponsors of the LTTE at least after the Norway arranged CFA came into operation in Feb. 2002, lives of thousands of children could have been saved. A case in point is the story of a girl and her younger brother taken away by the LTTE from the East to Vanni during Eelam War IV. After the killing of their father in May 2005 in Batticaloa, the LTTE had handed over the children to an orphanage as their mother was away in the Middle East. As the LTTE retreated from the East, it had moved the children to Sencholai before being taken to Vanni East. After the collapse of the LTTE in May 2009, UNICEF had helped their mother, who returned from overseas, to find her children accommodated at orphanages at Vavuniya and Mannar.

Responding to another query, the Defence Secretary said that that the gradual transformation of the LTTE from a hit and run outfit to a conventional fighting formation largely depended on massive recruitment of children to its fighting ranks. Although the UN had raised the issue with the LTTE following protests by Tamil families as well as successive governments, the global community never succeeded in stopping this strategy until Sri Lanka finished off the LTTE in May 2009.

"Child recruitment continued even weeks before the conclusion of the conflict,’’ the Defence Secretary said.

He said that for want of punitive action as well as negligence on the part of those responsible for children’s welfare, the LTTE had an opportunity to build a fighting force comprising of over 30,000 personnel at the onset of Eelam War IV.

"Although during a visit to Sri Lanka in 1998, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, obtained an assurance from the LTTE that gave hope for an improvement in the situation of children, the LTTE continued to recruit children in the ensuing three years,’’ Rajapaksa said.

``On a visit to North in Feb. 2001, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Andre Roberfroid met senior representatives of the LTTE to express the UN’s growing concerns. But the LTTE continued recruitment.’’

The Defence Secretary said that the Norwegian arranged CFA backed by the US, EU and Japan, gave the LTTE an opportunity to step up child recruitment under the very noses of Nordic truce monitoring mission.

Those attacking Sri Lanka on the human rights front could easily obtain data relating to complaints received by the Norwegian-led monitoring mission, he said.

"As far as I remember, there were thousands of complaints regarding children and young adults abducted by the LTTE, though they couldn’t intervene," the Defence Secretary said.

Referring to how a European country had intervened to save the life of an EPRLF MP years ago, though the LTTE subsequently killed him and his wife in Colombo, the Defence Secretary said that the bottom line was that those wanting to haul up Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal never wanted to deny the LTTE wherewithal to wage war.

"What Prabhakaran couldn’t have achieved with 100 rounds of heavy artillery he realized by using a brain-washed child suicide cadre. Had the international community brought enough pressure on the LTTE by taking punitive action against its overseas network, which raised funds for procurement of arms, ammunition and equipment, the LTTE would have been forced to scale down child recruitment,’’ Rajapaksa said.

The Defence Secretary suggested that those targeting Sri Lanka on accountability issues, too, should be investigated for their complicity in the LTTE build-up.

Commenting on post-war rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres, the Defence Secretary said that Sri Lanka was grateful to International Organization for Migration (IOM) for assisting ex-LTTE cadres. Appreciating assistance extended by the international community in this regard, the Defence Secretary said that Tamil Diaspora should support the project aimed at helping those who once fought for the LTTE. Unfortunately they weren’t interested in helping ex-LTTE cadres but destabilizing post-war Sri Lanka, he said.

Those seeking war crimes investigation here should make a genuine effort to establish the total number of LTTE cadres killed in action during the conflict, including the deployment of the IPKF from July 1987 to March 1990, he said.

They should also establish the number of Tamil speaking people killed in fighting among various Tamil groups.

A section of the international community and the Tamil Diaspora were making a desperate bid to portray all Tamils killed in the conflict as civilians.

"The question is whether the world want us to believe we lost 6,000 officers and men killed and some 30,000 wounded during Eelam War IV fighting civilians," Rajapaksa asked.

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