When monitors play hide and seek
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.