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Child soldier escapes from Tamil rebel camp

A 15-year-old combatant, who was pressed into service by the LTTE, escaped from the group and surrendered himself to the police.

india Updated: Mar 08, 2006 14:15 IST

An underage combatant pressed into service by the Tamil Tiger rebels escaped from the group and has surrendered to police in eastern Sri Lanka, the country's military said on Wednesday.

The youth, now 15, was recruited into the Tigers along with three of his friends last July and taken to a camp near the eastern city of Batticaloa, where he claims dozens more underage combatants are being trained, military spokesman Brig. Sudhir Samarasinghe said.

The youth's name was being withheld for security reasons, the spokesman said.

If confirmed, the account would contradict pledges made by the rebels to UN agencies that the group has stopped recruiting underage combatants.

There was no immediate comment available from the rebels. Samarasinghe said the teenager managed to flee the camp on March 4 and reported to police in Batticaloa on Tuesday.

He will be handed over to his parents, he said.

"According to the boy there are around 70 combatants under training whom he thought were of his age," Samarasinghe said.

The rebels, who want autonomy for Sri Lanka's 3.2 million Tamil minority, are often accused of recruiting child soldiers. UNICEF, the U.N. children's agency, said the Tamil Tigers have recruited 5,368 child soldiers since 2002, when the rebels and the government signed a ceasefire.

The rebels say that many child soldiers lied about their age to join the insurgency and that they have released thousands of underage combatants.

The rebels began fighting in 1983, claiming discrimination by Sri Lanka's 14 million Sinhalese majority against the 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority.

The 2002 cease-fire halted the fighting, but a recent spike in violence has threatened to plunge the country back into civil war.

Rebel and government negotiators plan to hold a second round of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, on April 19-21 to salvage the truce.

First Published: Mar 08, 2006 14:15 IST