Over 100 child soldiers freed by LTTE: UNICEF

Agence France Presse

Colombo, April 13:

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels freed more than 100 child soldiers today in their biggest single release of underage combatants, the United Nations children’s agency said. UNICEF said it was taking custody of the children at the rebel-held town of Vakarai, where the main Tamil Tiger rebel group established control after a breakaway faction of the group ended a conflict today. “We are right now registering the children in Vakarai,” UNICEF spokesman here Geoffrey Keele said. “The number is in excess of 100.” Military sources said some of the child combatants were among about 300 renegade fighters captured by the main Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres on Friday.

The main Tiger group had launched an offensive to remove renegade leader V Muralitharan alias Karuna. The latest release is the largest single group of underage fighters freed by the LTTE since they agreed last year to demobilise all boys and girls under the age of 18 from their ranks. Two days ago, UNICEF asked warring Tiger rebels to free child soldiers amid reports that young boys and girls had been killed and wounded in the latest fighting.

Hospital sources said at least seven child soldiers had been wounded on Friday and that young boys and girls were also among the dead. Tiger rebels have been heavily criticised by governments both here and abroad as well by as international rights organisations for their use of child soldiers. Since November last year the Tigers have been freeing small batches of underage combatants to UNICEF-initiated “transit homes” to be reunited with their families.