27 April 2007
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UNICEF today said that one of Sri Lanka’s battling factions is not taking seriously its public assurances that it is not recruiting child soldiers.
Speaking from Colombo after a mission last week to a conflict area where the so-called Karuna faction was supposed to provide access to a camp, UNICEF spokesman Andrew Brooks characterized the current level of cooperation with the faction as “stalemated.”
“Our supposed cooperation is obscured by the faction’s apparent determination to delay, frustrate, and mislead the process to end the use of children as combatants in this country’s conflict,” said Brooks, UNICEF’s head of protection in Sri Lanka.
UNICEF is part of a taskforce established by the UN Security Council which is charged with monitoring the serious violation of child rights in Sri Lanka.
The Karuna group, and its political offshoot known as the TMVP, is a paramilitary group supporting government forces against the Tamil Tiger rebels (LTTE). The Karuna group split from the LTTE in 2004, and denies accusations that it is actively recruiting child soldiers - despite consistent reports to the contrary.
An initial mission last week was meant to pave the way for regular inspections of known Karuna/TMVP locations in order to verify that no children are being used as soldiers. However the UN mission leader reported that he had been led to a jungle location where a hastily mocked-up “site” awaited the team. Requests to inspect known locations were rebuffed by Karuna/TMVP, despite repeated promises that they would fully cooperate.
Following a UN fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka last November, the leader of the faction, Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as “Colonel Karuna”, gave assurances to the UN that the Karuna group would cooperate in efforts to end the recruitment of child soldiers. Since then, it has been noted in a report to the UN Security Council, its recruitment of children has continued.
“Unfortunately, despite exhaustive approaches to the Karuna group and TMVP officials since then, the few children they’ve released falls well short of the public commitments they’ve made,” said Brooks. “We continue to receive reports of children being recruited. It augurs badly for Sri Lanka’s children in the current climate of increased hostilities. We seriously question whether the Karuna group is acting in good faith.” As of the end of March 2007, out of 285 children known to have been recruited by the Karuna faction, there were 194 outstanding reported cases.
[UNICEF has been working in Sri Lanka since the 1950’s, providing health care, vaccination services, and educational support to Sri Lanka’s children. In 2005 it was nominated by the UN Security Council to organize a task force to report on grave violations of child rights in conflict in Sri Lanka].