UNICEF says underage recruitment "very low"

[TamilNet, Sunday, 29 May 2005, 13:43 GMT]
Saying UNICEF had seen a "very low level" of underage recruitment by the Liberation Tigers in recent months, the organisationís outgoing top official in Sri Lanka, Ted Chaiban, Sunday welcomed the development and urged the continuation of "this positive trend." Mr. Chaiban met Sunday LTTE's Head of Political Division, Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan, his deputy, Mr. S. Thangan and the Director General of the Peace Secretariat, Mr. S. Pulidevan at LTTE's Peace Secretariat in Kilinochchi and discussed the improvement of the lives of people, particularly children, in Sri Lanka's former warzones.

UNICEF Ted Chaiban meets LTTE Political Head in Kilinochchi

"Over the past few months we have seen a very low level of recruitment," Mr. Chaiban, whose term of service in Sri Lanka is concluding shortly, said.

"Its a positive trend... we need to continue that. We need to see more of that happening," Mr. Chaiban told reporters, after meeting with Mr. S. P. Thamilchelvan, LTTE's Political Head in Kilinochchi.

"In the last two months it has been the lowest level of recruitment since we started tracking the figures in 2002... and there must be a continuation of that trend," he said.

"[Underage recruitment] is a continuing concern. I think at the same time we have continued a dialogue...with the LTTE to resolve this issue," Mr. Chaiban who is taking up a post with UNICEF in Sudan after leaving Sri Lanka, said.

Mr. Thamilchelvan commended UNICEF's field staff for their efforts in the wake of the December 26 tsunami which devastated Sri Lankaís northern, eastern and southern coasts, LTTE sources said.

Acknowledging the difficult circumstances faced by children in the Northeast due to the protracted conflict even before the tsunami struck, Mr. Chaiban said his organisation was committed to implementing programs to improve conditions.

Only lasting peace could truly enable the long term betterment of children, Mr. Thamilchelvan had pointed.

"Only a resolution of the conflict and restoration of a normal life without fear caused by military occupation and harassment can bring about lasting betterment of childrenís lives," he said.

The officials agreed that in the meantime, all efforts to alleviate daily difficulties should be pursued.

Mr. Thamilchelvan assured UNICEF of the LTTE's continuing support for its efforts in the Northeast.

In this regard, Mr. Chaiban had reiterated UNICEF's firm support for a Joint Mechanism between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government for distributing tsunami-related aid.

UNICEF would continue its advocacy in the international community for a joint mechanism, Mr. Chaiban said.

Praising Mr. Chaibanís commitment to the welfare of the children in the Northeast during his term of service in Sri Lanka, Mr. Thamilchelvan wished him well on his new assignment in Sudan, sources added.

UNICEF and the LTTE have had an occasionally acrimonious relationship over the issue of underage recruitment.

Whilst the UN agency has accused the Tigers of ignoring the age limit for recruitment. The LTTE has accused UNICEF of exaggerating the issue and of levelling allegations without foundation.

"It found that persons whom we had handed back to their parents after we found them to be underage, persons who had left the LTTE and had got married and others who had gone back to their families were in the UNICEF list as persons who were still with the LTTE," Mr. Thamilchelvan told TamilNet in a recent interview.

The LTTE has also accused UNICEFís Colombo office of making accusations available to the press before they are investigated and verified.

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