B. Muralidhar Reddy
Alarm at rising violence and widespread human rights violations
U.N. General Assembly alarm over reports of the Karuna group recruiting childrenGovernment to consider re-opening A-9 if LTTE stopped sporadic attacks
COLOMBO: Amid continuing air raids by the military on "identified LTTE targets" and reports of sporadic fighting in the north and the east, the Co-Chairs of the Tokyo Donors Conference of Sri Lanka have urged the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to honour ceasefire and commit themselves to "sustained and substantive negotiations."
At the end of the Washington conference on Tuesday, the Co-Chairs Norway, the United States, the European Union, and Japan while welcoming the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government's decision to supply relief goods to the Jaffna peninsula through A 9 highway as a "one-time measure," asked it to consider reopening the trunk road permanently.
Recruitment of children
Separately, the 61st session of the United Nations General Assembly on "promotion and protection of rights of children" expressed concern over the LTTE's continued practice of employing children for combat and registered alarm over reports of the Karuna group recruiting children with the help of a section of the armed forces.
The Co-Chairs, a representative body of 58 donor countries, in a statement, voiced alarm at the rising violence that led to a significant loss of lives and widespread human rights violations.
"The Co-Chairs condemn the continued and systematic ceasefire violations by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE. We call on both sides to seize the historic opportunity created by the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement to resolve the conflict peacefully. Only by committing [themselves] to sustained and substantive negotiations can the spiral of hostilities and human rights violations be reversed," it said.
At a briefing here on Wednesday, the government defence spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government would consider re-opening A-9 only if the LTTE stopped sporadic attacks on the Muhamalai forward defences.
Mr. Rambukwella claimed that the Co-Chairs' deliberations vindicated the Government's position that it had the right to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country and carry out military action against the LTTE in the interest of national security.
In their statement, the Co-Chairs particularly condemned the LTTE for initiating hostilities from heavily populated areas and the Government for firing into such vulnerable areas and killing and wounding innocent civilians. "The Co-Chairs call on both sides to respect international humanitarian law and set aside demilitarised zones to protect internally displaced persons."
The agreement between the Sri Lankan Freedom Party and the opposition United National Party should lead to a credible power-sharing proposal that can help to form the basis for a viable negotiated settlement between them, the statement said.
"At the same time, the specific arrangements for the north and east should not be disturbed, as they are fundamental to continuing the dialogue to achieve an agreement. The legitimate interests and aspirations of all communities, including the Tamil, Muslim and Sinhala, must be accommodated as part of a political settlement."
The observations on "arrangements for north and east" assume importance in the context of the Sri Lanka Supreme Court ruling that the temporary merger of the north and the east is "illegal".
The U.N. General Assembly said that from November 1, 2005 to 30 September 2006, the United Nations Children's Fund received reports that 513 children were recruited or re-recruited by the LTTE. "These figures only represent the number of cases reported to UNICEF, and there were indications that the prevailing security situation might be deterring families from reporting cases. The overlap between children recorded on the UNICEF database and children who left the LTTE [released, ran away or returned home] is approximately 36 per cent, suggesting that UNICEF figures reflect approximately one-third of the total cases of recruitment".
On the release of child soldiers, the report said that in most cases, the LTTE did not follow the agreed procedures. Children were often transferred to a residential vocational training facility in Kilinochchi or to the LTTE human rights body, Northeast Secretariat for Human Rights.
It said that as of September 30, UNICEF received 128 reports of children having been recruited by the Karuna faction. In the space of one week in mid-June, UNICEF received 30 reports alleging that the Karuna faction had abducted children in Santhiveli, Kiran, Mankerni, Valachchenai and Iruthayapuram (Manmunai North).
"Only boys were taken. All of the cases involved forced recruitment and abduction, in some cases by armed men who openly identified themselves as members of the Karuna faction. From November 1, 2005 to September 30, 2006, the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission received 195 complaints of child abductions, including 110 complaints against the LTTE, 79 complaints against a non-ceasefire agreement entity [Karuna faction] and six complaints against the Government," it said.
The report said that in Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Ampara districts, school attendance fell in many places because of the fear of recruitment and the general security situation.
"Schools are also being occupied by internally displaced persons and damaged by air and artillery attacks by fighting forces".