The question of child soldiers continues to vex strained relations
between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation
Tigers. That the matter has been raised against the Tigers by the UN
and other rights organizations is considered by Colombo as a feather
in its foreign policy cap.
"The Government of Sri Lanka is more interested in cynically
exploiting the child soldiers issue for its black propaganda war
against us than in finding a political solution to the conflict",
said Mr. S. P . Thamilchelvan in an interview with the TamilNet this
week. He said there were serious errors in the UNICEF report on
child recruitment by the LTTE.
TamilNet: You have said in the letter you sent to UN Secretary
General that there are errors in the UNICEF report on recruitment of
children by the LTTE. What are they?
Thamilchelvan: We were shocked and disappointed when the
UNICEF put out the report. However, we appointed a special
committee under the (LTTE) Peace Secretariat to investigate and
verify the information in the UNICEF report. The committee went
to the east and investigated the list of under age persons who,
according to the UNICEF report, were with us. It found that
persons whom we had handed back to their parents after we found
them to be underage, persons who had left the LTTE and had got
married and others who had gone back to their families were in
the UNICEF list as persons who were still with the LTTE. We have
pointed this out to the UN Secretary General with sufficient
proof. The committee is continuing to verify the UNICEF list
despite the practical difficulties on the ground.
TamilNet: The UN has listed the LTTE as an
organization that has child soldiers. The UNICEF has charged that
the LTTE continues to recruit minors to its armed forces. You have
said little about this in the media. What is your response?
Thamilchelvan: We have been fighting and laying down our
lives for the sake of a better future for our people and our
children. We have shed our blood in the struggle to win their
legitimate rights. Therefore, we have a greater and deeper
interest in the welfare and future of our children than anyone
else. Our national leader launched many projects for children�s
welfare and education during war and peace. We are implementing
them with the UN, Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) and
several child welfare groups.
In addition to this, we are implementing a project with the
UNICEF for the welfare of underage persons who come to join us.
But this project is not satisfactory. There are some
shortcomings and practical problems in its implementation. But
we are determined to create a pragmatic and effective
arrangement by discussing the matter with the UN and other
concerned parties. We have sent a detailed letter to the UN
Secretary General explaining our commitment and determination
(to address the issue).
There is one important thing that you have to take note of in
this regard. The majority of complaints about recruitment of
minors come from areas controlled by the Sri Lankan armed
forces. There are many instances of children going missing in
these areas. Sri Lankan armed forces falsely accuse us of
forcibly recruiting those children who are reported missing.
They compel the children�s parents to say that we took them (the
children) away. In issuing reports (on recruitment of minors),
the UNICEF misunderstands this reality in areas controlled by
Sri Lankan armed forces.
TamilNet: Speaking at the UN Security
Council�s special session on child soldiers on 23 February, Sri
Lanka�s ambassador to the UN, Mr. Bernard Gunatilleka charged that
the LTTE abducted Tsunami affected children for its armed forces.
What do you say?
Thamilchelvan: It has to be said that this is blatant
chicanery of the Sinhala government. No one denies the fact that
the deplorable conditions in which our children find themselves
today were brought about by genocidal policies perpetrated on
Tamils by successive Sinhala governments for more than fifty
years and by the war it waged on our people for the last thirty
Sinhala governments destroyed the lives of our people and our
children by imposing economic embargoes and by banning fishing
and farming. They killed thousands of our children by bombing
and shelling schools and homes. Thousands of children were
displaced and orphaned. The Sri Lankan state makes such
insidious allegations from time to time after destroying the
lives and futures of our children to escape these heinous and
unforgivable crimes. These allegations are baseless.
The Sri Lankan government is destroying our children�s lives
in every way while hoodwinking the world that it is concerned
about the welfare of our children. That the Sri Lankan state is
speaking for our children is nothing but blatant fraud. Let me
explain. There is a cease fire agreement (CFA) between the LTTE
and the Government of Sri Lanka for the last three years. The
CFA contains provisions to restore normalcy in the war ravaged
lives of the people in the northeast. But Sri Lankan armed
forces continue to hinder this by occupying homes, temples,
hospitals and schools. They have garrisoned fertile farming
lands and fishing grounds on which our people depended on for
their livelihoods. Colombo thinks only of military advantage,
not the predicament of our people. Our people cannot go back to
their villages, cultivate their lands or fish in the sea. They
have been driven to destitution, deprived of their livelihoods
by military restrictions and high security zones for many long
years. It directly affects our children, destroys their future.
Colombo bombed schools and killed children, imprisoned them; our
children have seen their parents being murdered by Sri Lankan
The Sri Lankan government wants to cover up the fact that it
murdered our children, subjected them to inhuman treatment. It
wants to prevent the world from knowing what is really going on
in our areas.
It acted in an uncivilized manner by stopping the UN
Secretary General who wanted to see the Tsunami devastation in
TamilNet: You asked LTTE troops conscripted
by your ex-commander Karuna to leave him and go home when he
separated from your movement. But Human rights groups now say that
you are forcing some of these troops to rejoin. Do you still have
persons conscripted by Karuna in the LTTE in Batticaloa?
Thamilchelvan: No. We positively confirm that we have no one
in the LTTE today who was forcibly conscripted by Karuna. A
persistent complaint that Karuna was forcibly recruiting minors
was one of the reasons that prompted the LTTE leader to initiate
a disciplinary process against him. We released all under age
persons whom he had forcibly recruited. We wish to completely
From the beginning the LTTE has followed a very strict and
selective recruitment policy with a view to building a committed
fighting force. An unwilling conscript will never have the
political commitment to make a good fighter for our people�s
TamilNet: You say that underage persons join
the LTTE by giving false information of their actual age. Why does
this happen and what action are you taking to stop this?
Thamilchelvan: We are determined not to accept minors who
come to join the LTTE. We hand back such underage persons to
their parents. Yet some minors attempt to join us by claiming
that they are older than their actual age. Then I must say that
our children�s growth is affected by poverty and malnutrition
induced by the war Sri Lanka waged on our people. It is
difficult to gauge the actual age of these persons.
Also I should draw your attention to the fact that many Tamil
parents lost the birth certificates of their children due to
constant displacement and destruction wrought by the war. Hence
there is no firm basis on which we can verify the age of those
who attempt to join up. It is really difficult to search for the
persons on the UNICEF list of missing and dead people.
TamilNet: What have you doing to protect and
look after the interests of underage persons whom you hand back,
what is the role of the UNICEF in this?
Thamilchelvan: We take into account the economic conditions
at an underage person�s home before we attempt to reunite
him/her with their families. If a family�s economic condition is
bad we try to find them jobs and provide them some sort of
skills training. We are looking after children afflicted by the
Tsunami until their families are back on their feet.
We have to keep them in transit camps or children�s homes
with the permission of their parents until their families are
economically stable. We provide healthcare, education, school,
and uniforms to these children. Tamil Rehabilitation
Organization and the UN are helping us specially with this