Armed men abducted four Tamil teenagers working on tsunami reconstruction projects, a news report said on Wednesday, days after the UN accused the Sri Lankan military of helping a group recruit children to fight against separatist rebels.
The students, aged 14-18, were working on a post-tsunami project in eastern Batticaloa district to supplement their parents' income when they were taken away at gunpoint on Tuesday, pro-rebel website TamilNet said, quoting their parents and unidentified sources.
There was no independent confirmation of the reported abductions. Their disappearance follows a UN statement on Monday that it has "found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children" by a rebel faction in eastern Sri Lanka.
The breakaway group split from the northern-based mainstream rebels in 2004. The military has called the allegations "completely misleading", and "deserve a deep sense of revulsion and explanation in view of their serious nature and repercussions". It denied any involvement with the breakaway group.
The UN said the breakaway armed group has abducted 135 children since May in Batticaloa, with "evidence that this trend is accelerating".
The UN comments followed a 10-day observation mission by Allan Rock, adviser to the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict on Sri Lanka.
The Tigers, fighting for a separate homeland for Sri Lanka's minority ethnic Tamils, split in 2004 when a powerful rebel leader from the east, known as Karuna, broke away from the mainstream group. He took about 6,000 fighters with him.
The mainstream Tigers have vowed to crush Karuna's faction, but it remains active in the east, where it has been known to attack mainstream rebels.
The UN also said the main rebel organisation has reneged on a promise to release all child combatants already identified by the UN Childrens' Fund, and continues to recruit underaged fighters. Though child rights groups and the UN have long accused the rebel groups of recruiting children, this is the first such allegation against the government by a high-profile official.
Meanwhile, the bodies of four Tamils who had been abducted at the weekend were found in northern Jaffna district on Tuesday, TamilNet said, quoting unidentified civil society sources.
The Tigers have fought the government since 1983 demanding a separate homeland for ethnic minority Tamils, citing decades of discrimination by the majority Sinhalese-dominated state. More than 65,000 people were killed in the conflict before a 2002 ceasefire.
The Defense Ministry says 3,289 people have died in the fighting this year—860 government security personnel, 549 civilians and 1,880 rebels. The rebels themselves don't generally release casualty figures.
But both sides claim to honour the 2002 truce.