Wednesday, Mar 05, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
COLOMBO. MARCH 4. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the UNICEF today agreed on a set of measures to be taken by the rebels to address the sensitive issue of child recruitment by the Tigers.
According to the agreement, at a meeting between the LTTE's political wing leader, S.P. Tamilchelvan, and the UNICEF representative in Sri Lanka, Ted Chaiban, temporary transit centres, will be "co-managed by international and national agencies" to rehabilitate the child soldiers.
The transit centres "will give an opportunity to assess children and make appropriate plans for their future".
The two sides also agreed that the LTTE will share a draft action plan with the UNICEF on March 10.
A meeting will be held between a working group of the Tigers, the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation and the UNICEF on March 14 and 15 to "review the technical and operational aspects of the draft action plan". A workshop has also been planned at the end of March.
In April, members of the LTTE and heads of district political sections are to undergo training on child rights, a joint statement by the LTTE and the UNICEF said.
The LTTE has been facing charges of continued child recruitment, particularly in the eastern districts. Mr. Tamilchelvan was quoted as telling Mr. Chaiban that the Tigers had "informed all military commanders and heads of political sections, in writing, regarding the policy not to recruit children under the age of 18". The LTTE, he added, had "sent back to their families over 350 children".
Army offer to deserters
The Sri Lanka Army today offered over 51,000 deserters the option of a legal discharge or reinstatement in the forces. The Army, which has been plagued by the problem of desertions, today said it would issue certificates of discharge for those who abandoned their ranks and reinstate those "aspiring to rejoin the Army" only if they were free from any criminal involvement and whose period of absence did not exceed three years.
An overwhelming portion of the deserters have left the forces during the past 20 years, at an average annual rate of about 4,000 during the past few years. Annual amnesties were a regular feature during the past decade, for the deserters to rejoin the ranks, but there were not many takers.
Apart from depleting the combat units, desertions have become a major law and order problem, with trained soldiers often ending up as mercenaries. The move is aimed at checking the trend of deserters taking to organised crime and offering them the possibility of reintegration into society.
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