2ND LEAD (corrects age limit, adds detail)

HRW: Sri Lanka military complicit in forced child recruitment

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 28 November 2006, 12:39 GMT]
Sri Lankan security forces must immediately stop assisting abductions of boys and young men by the Karuna Group and help those abducted return safely to their families, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday. A HRW report to be published next month says the Sri Lankan military and police are complicit and, at times, directly cooperating with the Karuna Group. “We have clear and compelling evidence that government forces are helping Karuna forces abduct boys and young men,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocate at HRW.

“The government has known about Karuna abductions at least since June, if not earlier, and it has failed to stop the kidnappings or investigate the culprits,” Ms. Becker said.

“The government should stop the abductions and help kidnapped children go home.”

“There’s no way the Karuna forces could transport vanloads of abducted children along these roads without government forces knowing,” she said.

HRW says it investigated more than 20 child abduction cases by interviewing witnesses and the parents of abducted children in government-controlled areas.

“In one case, the Sri Lankan army surrounded a village, gathered the young men and boys, recorded their names, and took their photographs. Karuna forces came later that day and abducted eight of the boys and young men,”

Parents frequently saw their children, just after they had been kidnapped, in the local offices of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), the political party recently founded by the Karuna group.

“In Batticaloa and Ampara towns, the TMVP offices are guarded by police. In other places, they are situated less than 100 meters from a Sri Lankan military camp. Government forces would therefore have seen the children in these offices and camps,” HRW said.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF has recorded more than 130 child abductions by the Karuna group in eastern Sri Lanka’s Batticaloa district alone this year, HRW said.

“Other abductions are reported in the districts of Ampara and Trincomalee. UNICEF estimates the real number of child abductions is three times higher, because many families are too afraid to report the kidnappings for fear of reprisals,” HRW said.

The allegations of government involvement gained major media attention on November 13, when Ambassador Allan Rock, a United Nations advisor on children and armed conflict, reported in Colombo that the military was assisting the Karuna group was abducting children in government-controlled areas of the east.

Concluding a 10-day visit to Sri Lanka, Rock found “strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment.”

His comments triggered a Sinhala nationalist backlash while Sri Lankan government defence spokesma and cabinet minister Keheliya Rambukwella, accused Mr. Rock of being in the pay of the Tamil Tigers.

Mr. Rock also condemned the Tamil Tigers for continuing to recruit under-18s as fighters.

The LTTE has said that it has outlawed recruitment of under-17s (and participation in combat of under-18s) and will ensure underage fighters are released by the end of this year.

On Tuesday HRW called for UN sanctions against two governments (Burma and the Republic of Congo) and 14 armed groups, including the LTTE.

Among the latter were the LTTE, Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the Maoists in Nepal, FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the Karenni Army in Burma.

“These groups have repeatedly and shamelessly defied the Security Council by using children as soldiers,” said Ms. Becker.

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