Sri Lanka’s Tigers vow to stop recruiting child soldiers

BERLIN: Sri Lanka's Tamil Tigers pledged on Saturday to stop recruiting child soldiers, one of the biggest obstacles to the rebels' hopes of being seen as a legitimate political party. 

The rebels also agreed – at the end of two days of peace talks in Berlin to end a war that killed 64,000 people – that a former Amnesty International head would draw up a blueprint for human rights issues linked to the peace process. 

“The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has agreed to a complete cessation of recruitment of, and recruitment campaigns aimed at persons under 18,” said Norway's Foreign Ministry state secretary Vidar Helgesen, who is brokering the peace talks. 

He told a news conference at the Norwegian embassy the rebels would work with the United Nation's Children's Fund (Unicef) on a plan with “a credible review mechanism.” 

The Tigers were heavily criticised internationally for their use of child soldiers, some in their early teens, during the two-decade ethnic war. They were accused of continued forced recruitment of children despite previous pledges to stop. 

Chief Tiger negotiator Anton Balasingham conceded there had been some isolated cases of child recruitment to the army, but in the last six months, the Tigers had reunited over 350 child soldiers with their parents. He said measures would be taken to prevent children from entering army ranks. 

“The LTTE has made a solemn pledge to Uniceff to cease all recruitment of underaged children. Whenever children want to join we will now check their ages,” Balasingham said. He added several senior army officials had been dismissed following investigations into child recruitment. 

The Sri Lankan government and the Tigers also agreed to bring in former Amnesty International head, Ian Martin, to draft a human rights programme and a set of commitments the two would adhere to throughout negotiations. 

The plan, to include training of Tamil Tiger and government officials in humanitarian law, would be discussed during the sixth round of peace talks in Japan next month. 

Helgesen said an agreement on the World Bank's setting up of a reconstruction fund for war-hit areas would be signed within a week. 

To resolve the resettlement of displaced citizens, the government and the LTTE would establish three committees – of six Muslims and six LTTE representatives –to address land issues, he said. – Reuters  

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