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Rights Group Charges Sri Lanka Rebels Continue to Use Child Soldiers


The international rights group, Human Rights Watch, says Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels are still recruiting child soldiers, despite a ceasefire with the government.

The Sri Lankan government signed a ceasefire with the Tamil Tiger guerrilla group in February 2002.

Even though the fighting has stopped, Tejshree Thapa from Human Rights Watch says the rebels continue to abduct and illegally recruit children to join their forces.

"What is particularly disturbing, of course, is that despite the ceasefire, the recruitment seems to be continuing, and in government-controlled areas, increasing," said Tejshree Thapa.

In a report released this week, Human Rights Watch estimates that at least 3,500 child soldiers have been forced to join the rebels since the ceasefire, often as a result of threats against their families.

Ms. Thapa says the rebels have used child soldiers for years as a means of increasing their ranks. But they also take children as a means of keeping the local population in rebel areas under their control.

A child soldier is classified as any combatant under the age of 18. The report documents children between the ages of 12 and 14 years old being deployed in frontline situations.

Ms. Thapa says even those who have not seen combat are badly mistreated and punishments are severe.

"Children who ask to see their parents, children who dare to run away, children who refuse to obey, children who collapse because they cannot keep up with the pace of physical training and military training are beaten, often beaten in front of others," she said. "Some children report seeing their comrades being beaten so severely that they were unable to walk afterwards."

The report comes as Norway's Foreign Minister Jan Petersen visits Sri Lanka to try to force both the government and the Tamil Tigers back to the negotiating table to hammer out Tamil autonomy in Sri Lanka. Norway brokered the 2002 ceasefire between the two sides and has facilitated the now-stalled peace talks.

Ms. Thapa of Human Rights Watch says, Norway and the rest of the international community should put pressure on the rebels.

"We believe that with adequate pressure from the international community," said Tejshree Thapa. "The Tamil Tigers can be given incentives to cease the recruitment. And we believe that with sustained pressure they will - and they should - be made to before peace talks can continue."

Twenty years of fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers has claimed more than 60,000 lives.