Pro-Lankan group holding 194 child soldiers: UNICEF
A pro-government Tamil militant group is holding at least 194 child soldiers despite promises it would free underage combatants, UNICEF said on Saturday.
The UN agency for children said the Tamil Tiger faction known as the "Karuna group" was failing to honour its public promises not to recruit child soldiers.
Out of 285 children known to have been recruited by the Karuna faction, there were 194 outstanding reported cases as of the end of last month, UNICEF said in a statement.
Last year, the UN accused Sri Lankan government forces and police of rounding up children in the embattled east of the island to be recruited by the Karuna group, a charge vehemently denied by the authorities in colombo.
UNICEF spokesman Andrew Brooks said cooperation with the faction was "stalemated" and that the guerrillas were not allowing the UN agency access to areas where child soldiers were being held.
"Our supposed cooperation is obscured by the faction's apparent determination to delay, frustrate, and mislead the process to end the use of children as combatants in this country's conflict," Brooks said in a statement.
Brooks said the faction led by Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, better known as Colonel Karuna, continued to recruit child soldiers despite assurances it would halt the practice.
"We continue to receive reports of children being recruited. It augurs badly for Sri Lanka's children in the current climate of increased hostilities. We seriously question whether the Karuna group is acting in good faith," he said.
UNICEF is part of a taskforce established by the UN Security Council which is charged with monitoring the serious violation of child rights in Sri Lanka.
Karuna led an unprecedented split from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in March 2004 and since then is said to be collaborating with government forces against the main guerrilla outfit.
"Unfortunately, despite exhaustive approaches to the Karuna group... the few children they've released falls well short of the public commitments they've made," said Brooks."
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