In an exceptionally strong indictment, Special Advisor to the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Allan Rock has said that children as young as 13 or 14 are being abducted by the armed Karuna group with the help of a section of the Sri Lankan Security Forces in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa and Amparai.
Ambassador Rock, who briefed the media at the end of his 10-day tour of the Tamil-speaking and war-torn Northeast, said that the mainstream LTTE led by Prabhakaran was also recruiting children, showing scant regard for its own undertakings given to the UN earlier.
But the problem seemed to be more acute in the Eastern districts where the Karuna group held sway, he said.
"The mission discovered a disturbing development involving the Karuna abductions. It 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 the Karuna faction.
"The mission met with the parents of many of the abducted children in Batticaloa district. As a result, it learned of eye-witness evidence that links the Karuna faction abductions to certain government elements.
"Based on the evidence as a whole, the mission concluded that some government security forces are actively participating in these criminal acts," Ambassador Rock said.
The envoy castigated the Sri Lankan Security Forces, the LTTE and the Karuna group for spawning and sustaining an "atmosphere of impunity" in which gross violations of human rights were taking place without let or hindrance.
There were instances of the Sri Lankan army surrounding villages and taking pictures of young boys, and then the next day, the Karuna group cadres coming to these villages to pick up the boys they wanted, he said.
"Most of the abductions took place from houses," he noted.
"On June 15 and 16, in just two days, 70 children were abducted from an area dotted with army camps," Rock said.
UNICEF reported that in May alone 135 kids had been abducted from Batticaloa. But Rock said that this could be just a third of the actual number.
He was told that the Karuna group was aiding the army and other Security Forces by identifying suspicious persons (persons in league with the LTTE led by Prabhakaran).
The military camps of the Karuna group were all located in the government-controlled areas, he noted.
"People did complain to the police and the army but they were not responsive. Human rights organisations have deteriorated, diminished or disappeared. People do not speak out for fear of being killed," he said.
The people told him that they wanted to get out of the area, but could not do so because the security forces were restricting their movements.
Frustrated, one family contemplated collective suicide, the envoy said.
When he met the political leadership of the mainstream LTTE in Kilinochchi last Thursday to point out that it had been disregarding its own promises and continuing to recruit children, he was told that their "so-called" law against child conscription would become operational only on January 1, 2007.
The UNICEF would be monitoring progress in this respect, he said.
Rajapaksa promises immediate action
Ambassador Rock briefed President Mahinda Rajapaksa about his findings and the President told him that allegations of nexus between the Karuna group and sections of the security forces would be investigated "immediately", and that the guilty would be punished.
Rock said that he would publicise his findings internationally to create an awareness of the atmosphere of fear and insecurity in parts of Sri Lanka.
But he said that it was not his mandate to recommend economic sanctions or any other punitive action.
"My leverage is limited," the envoy said when asked if his mission would have a telling effect in contrast to the earlier ones.