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When monitors play hide and seek

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Face 2 Face by Jayantha Sri Nissanka The Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) decision to shut down seven offices in the North and East (N&E) has provided an open license for the LTTE to accelerate the conscription of children in its search to replenish depleted cadres. When the SLMM offices were in place, child recruitment by the LTTE was reduced due to international pressure. Defense Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella and the National Child Protection Authority, Chairperson, Padma Wettewe claim that child recruitment would again increase.


Keheliya Rambukwella


Padma Wettewe
Pic by Vipula Amarasinghe

Q: How will the SLMM closing down their seven offices in the N&E affect the children in uncleared areas?

K.R.: It will be an open license for the LTTE to recruit children hereafter as no body will be there to monitor such conscription. The SLMM had no justifiable reasons to pull out. Their decision is not ethical. So the mandate given to them is somewhat bleak. They say that their lives are at grave risk by way of land mines, booby traps, claymore mines and side charges. Everyone knows that such equipment are terrorist equipments and the LTTE use them in their missions. Their eviction from the N&E is justiciable if they clearly mention the reason.

P.W.: The SLMM presence in the N&E helped to preserve the rights of children to a certain extent. Their sudden pull out is very unfortunate and now the children in these areas are again vulnerable to armed groups. Earlier, three Police officials of the NCPA were detained by the LTTE but with the help of many parties including the SLMM finally they were released. The NCPA and other organisations find it difficult to work independently in the conflict areas in the absence of the SLMM.

Q: Was the SLMM able to stop child conscription?

K. R.: The LTTE is seriously concerned about their numbers today due to heavy casualties. Forcible recruitment of children by the LTTE was deterred to some extent due to the presence of the SLMM in the uncleared areas and as such incidents were brought to notice. The SLMM pull out is like giving an open licence to harass the innocent Tamil children and families. Our intelligence reports confirm that the LTTE is back to recruitment as nobody is there since last week.

P. W.: Child recruitment reduced to a great extent once the SLMM established their offices in the N&E soon after the CFA. The NCPA is voicing a gainst child conscription locally and internationally. The SLMM reports on the child conscription help us to campaign for child rights.

Q: Can the SLMM monitor child conscription from Colombo?

K. R.: I have my doubts because there were other reasons that they could not do it effectively. I agree that SLMM did some work in fairness to them. We would have asked them to open up more offices to expand their work. But now they have pulled out. So we have to take this matter up with the Co-chairs.

P. W.: It is very unpractical. I don't understand as to how they would monitor from Colombo. How can they suddenly go to conflict areas if there are incidents? Preparing reports from Colombo will not provide first hand information.

Q: How will the Government arrest this situation hereafter?

K. R.: The Government could assure that no such activity is evidenced in the control areas. But, still there areas in the North and East, the Government has no accessibility yet. That is where the SLMM could play a major role in protecting the rights of children. Now we are appealing the United Nations, ICRC, Child Rights Organisations, Human Rights Organisations and other countries to intervene and protect the rights of children.

P. W.: The NCPA requests the international community to back our quest to protect child rights. Without the backing of the international community, it is very difficult to protect the rights of children in conflict areas. The NCPA calls up on all the international organisations which are dealing with child issues to unite at this juncture to assist us.

Q: UN special envoy Allen Rock prepared his statement focusing on the information given by the SLMM which charged that the Army helped the Karuna faction to recruit children. What is your comment on Rocks statement?

K. R.: Why we say this report is baseless is because he has failed to provide credible information that the Army supported Karuna faction to recruit children. We are asking Rock and the SLMM to provide us evidence to take necessary action. We are not going to cover up anything as afar as child recruitment is concerned. But still Rock and the SLMM are silent over the issue and the reports are in doubt. As they failed to give us credible information, it infers that either this information are not available or for some unforeseen reasons those are not given to us.

P. W.: Allen Rock would have been a bit more responsible in his statement. If there were credible information, Sri Lankan authorities would have taken action against those responsible. I don't understand as to why he is hiding this information if he has them. He never said in his statement from where the children were abducted, dates, names,etc.

Q: What is the actual situation of the North and East children because the Government can't go to the uncleared areas hereafter?

K. R.: It's a pathetic situation. The LTTE tried their best to hold children and parents as human shields for their own protection. But they failed to keep them as civilians started fleeing from different directions. Over 35,000 people have now got out of the clutches of the LTTE in Vakarai. So you can see the resistance that was built in by the Tamil people themselves towards the atrocities of the LTTE.

P. W.: Already we have District Committees to look after the rights of children. The SLMM presence greatly helped these committees to function effectively as the LTTE was a bit reluctant to interfere with the SLMM. In the absence of their presence hereafter, we will try our best to protect the rights of children with the help of other organisations.

Q: How do you argue that closing down SLMM offices would help the LTTE to recruit children?

K. R.: At least there were some kind of deterrent when there were complaints by parents about child recruitment. But not that the SLMM officials went and brought the children back to parents. But in the absence of SLMM, there is basically a free hand for the LTTE to operate.

P. W.: In the absence of international monitors, the LTTE would freely operate in uncleared areas. This could lead to forcible recruitment of children.

Q: Do you have any idea about the number of child soldiers in the LTTE?

K. R.: According to the UNICEF, there were 1,300 children when the Cease Fire Agreement was signed. But the number would have increased by now.

P. W.: The UNICEF gave us statistics. But, by now the number would have changed. Still I believe that there is a large number of children in the LTTE custody unreported to the UNICEF.

Q: The LTTE signed an agreement with the UNICEF soon after signing the CFA to release child soldiers. Did they honour this agreement?

K. R.: Never, never, because UNICEF is dealing with a terrorist organization. LTTE will say something in the morning. Noon they will change it. Again in the evening they will change their position. In the night they will come out with something else. Two weeks later they pretend to forget everything and take a different course of action.

P. W.: If the LTTE honoured it, still there can't be any child soldiers with the LTTE. I hope the UNICEF with other organisations would bring pressure on the LTTE to release the balance number of children.

Q: The United Nation General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20, November 1989 introduced the Convention on the Child Rights. Sri Lanka too was a signatory to the Convention. In keeping with the Convention, Child Rights Act was passed by the Sri Lankan legislature. Can Sri Lanka protect the rights of children according to that Act?

K. R.: We have seen the violation of child rights in the North and East over the last 25 years. We gave photographs of conscripted children, dates,time and where they were forcibly abducted, confessions of parents, etc. to the international community. The Government has done its part and gave enough and more evidence. Now it is up to those agencies to take up this issue at Right Forums seriously.

P. W.: It is very unfortunate that the protection of child rights in the North and East have now come to a grinding halt. The NCPA and the Child right activists have to seek other alternative methods to protect the rights of children hereafter to assist the District Committees.

Q: According to the Article 3(9) of the CFA, the Government and the LTTE should guarantee the safety of monitors. Have both parties failed to guarantee their safety?

K. R.: The LTTE on September, 1, 2006 flouted the clause of the CFA by threatening the European Union members to get out from the North and East areas and gave them an ultimatum. That is why I say that they don't honour any agreement as they are a bunch of terrorists and their activities are based on the theory of terrorism. They do not follow any ethics or truce. Their 25 year history proves it. Then Governments have given them so much through discussions, peace accords,etc. But the country has got nothing from the LTTE other than destruction.

P. W.: The Government of Sri Lanka assured 100% safety to Monitors. It is the duty of the LTTE too, to assure the safety of Monitors. The Government has done its part.

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