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UNICEF Hopes Cease-Fire Will Help Reunite Sri Lanka's Child Soldiers With Families - 2002-07-17

The U.N. Children's Fund says it is counting on a so-called peace dividend in Sri Lanka to help it reunite child soldiers in Sri Lanka with their families.

A cease-fire between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eeelam has been in place since December and peace talks are to begin next month. UNICEF officials say there are other signs the rebels are willing to work to solve problems caused by years of fighting.

UNICEF official Jean-Luc Bories said the rebels are cooperating with UNICEF in trying to resolve the child soldier problem. During the past few months, Mr. Bories added that the rebels, known as the LTTE, have released more than 60 children.

"Although that can appear a drop in the sea because it is difficult to assess how many are in the LTTE forces, nobody knows, we take that as a major step forward and we also see that as a strong commitment from LTTE to UNICEF in terms of their compliance to their commitment in terms of child recruitment," he said.

According to Mr. Bories, the Tamil Tigers deny that they intentionally recruit children. They say that if they have recruited any under-age people it is because the youngsters were using forged birth certificates showing they were at least 18 years of age.

The UNICEF official says several agencies are participating in UNICEF's efforts to monitor child soldiers. He says this should make it easier to locate the children.