CFA says nothing on child recruitment
At the talks with the Sri Lankan government at Geneva beginning on Wednesday, the LTTE may argue that child recruitment cannot be taken as a violation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) because child recruitment is not even mentioned in the CFA!
According to a report from Geneva in the leading Tamil daily Sudar Oli on Tuesday, the LTTE is going to point out that Article 1 and 2 of the CFA mention only "abduction" as being a violation.
Nowhere in the CFA is there any reference to recruitment of under age persons.
The Sri Lankan government, assisted by the Scandinavian-staffed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), is planning to confront the LTTE with alarming statistics on child recruitment, mainly in the Eastern Tamil-speaking districts of Batticaloa and Amparai.
According to Sudar Oli the LTTE is going to point out to the SLMM's delegate, Hagrup Haukland, that his monitors had gone only by parents' complaints and not investigated the complaints.
The LTTE will say that it has always been against child recruitment and blame Karuna, the commander of the Eastern districts of Batticaloa and Amparai who split from the organisation in March-April 2004, for all the child recruitment that had taken place.
The LTTE is going to point out that one of the charges made by it against Karuna was that he was recruiting children.
He was sacked from the LTTE for this, among other reasons.
The LTTE contends that many of the children in its ranks are destitute, who join the organisation voluntarily, to be fed, housed and cared for.
The LTTE says that it has special institutions called "Sencholai" for such children.
And these children are destitute because of the war, for which the government has been responsible, the LTTE argues.
Government's case: Child recruitment is abduction
On other hand, the government's case is that child recruitment is nothing but abduction. And the SLMM fully backs this interpretation.
In the past four years, hundreds of parents in the Eastern districts of Batticaloa and Amparai have complained to the SLMM that their children had been abducted by the LTTE.
The government and child rights campaigners in Sri Lanka like Dr.Harendra de Silva, do not buy the LTTE's contention that the children go to the LTTE on their own.
According to Priyan Seneviratne and Dinidu Endaragalle (Negotiating Peace in Sri Lanka Vol 2, 2006, Edited by Kumara Rupesinghe) child recruitment was the most frequent violation recorded in the SLMM's statistics from 2002 to 2005.
"Out of 3424 violations committed by the LTTE, 1789 were of child recruitment, which was 55 per cent of the total violations committed."
"The year 2002, recorded a total of 677 child recruitment incidents, the highest number recorded in the four year period," the authors said.
In press statement issued in 2002, the spokesman of the SLMM, Teitur Torkelsson, said: " We record at least two complaints daily of forcible recruitment of children. It has been the most common complaint. Children are being forced to join the Tamil Tigers mostly in the eastern areas like Amparai and Batticaloa."
In 2003, about 250 parents and students had staged a demonstration in Valaichchenai (Batticaloa district) demanding the release of abducted children.
Karuna's exit brings down child recruitment
However, lending credence to the LTTE's contention that Karuna had been chiefly responsible for child recruitment, his exist from the LTTE and his subsequent neutralisation in April 2004, resulted in a fall in cases of child recruitment.
Seneviratne and Endaragalle say: "In 2004, the number of child recruitment violations dropped considerably, leading to a dramatic reduction in CFA violations committed by the LTTE."
"This drop occurred with the breakaway of Karuna, when child recruitment violations reported from Batticaloa district dropped dramatically."
"By the end of November 2005, child recruitment violation incidents had gone down to a total of 173."