Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Colombo `must' probe abductions

KIDNAP ALLEGATIONS The UN representative for children and armed conflict on Sri Lanka said that government forces were helping child abductions by the Karuna militia


Young fighters arrive in a truck for a function to commemorate Tamil Tiger rebel Malathy, the first women cadre to die during the 19-year war with government forces, in Kilinochchi, 270km north of Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Oct. 10, 2002.


Sri Lanka must investigate allegations that its military has helped a militia fighting separatist Tamil Tiger rebels to conscript child soldiers, or allow an independent international investigation, a human rights group said yesterday.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the government's alleged complicity in the child abductions show its "hypocrisy" in condemning the use of child soldiers by the Tamil Tigers.

"The government must stop making excuses and launch a serious and impartial investigation of government complicity," Brad Adams, the rights group's Asia director, said in a statement.

"If the government won't investigate, then it must allow an independent, international inquiry," he said.

The government reacted sharply, calling the report inaccurate.

"This report is based on various inaccurate information that has been floating in the country in the past months," chief government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

"What we want from Human Rights Watch is credible evidence, not just a statement. Only then we can take action if needed," he said.

Jo Becker, a child rights advocate for the group, said the government -- which has condemned child recruitment by the Tamil Tigers for years -- "is now complicit in the same crimes."

"The government's collusion on child abductions ... highlights its hypocrisy," Becker said.

In November, Allan Rock, the UN special representative for children and armed conflict on Sri Lanka, alleged that government forces were helping and at times participating in child abductions by the Karuna militia, a splinter group that broke away from the mainstream Tamil Tiger rebels.

The government has flatly denied any military involvement.

The Karuna group, named after its commander, once a regional leader of the Tamil Tigers, split from the mainstream guerrilla group in 2004 with some 6,000 fighters.

The mainstream rebels attacked the renegades and claimed they had crushed the rebellion. However, the splinter group later began attacking the mainstream rebels and is widely believed to be cooperating with government forces.

In a report titled Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group, Human Rights Watch said the military had not taken any steps to stop the abductions because it was "eager for an ally against the Tamil Tigers."

Becker said the Karuna group mainly targets poor families for conscription.

"Not only do government forces fail to stop the abductions, but they allow the Karuna group to transport kidnapped children through checkpoints on the way to their camps," Becker said.

Human Rights Watch has also called on the UN to impose "targeted sanctions" on the Tamil Tiger rebels -- who are known to have used child soldiers for years -- because of the group's status as a "repeat offender."

The rebels have fought the government for more than two decades to create a separate homeland.

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