Sri Lanka's breakaway Tigers says no child soldiers soon
A breakaway Tamil Tiger rebel group now allied with the government will release the last 20 child soldiers.
A breakaway Tamil Tiger rebel group now allied with the government will release the last 20 child soldiers it has in its ranks within two weeks, the group's leader said on Friday.
Under a deal struck with the U.N. children's agency UNICEF last year, the TMVP group led by ex-Tiger commander Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan had agreed to let go all child soldiers.
On Friday, Muralitharan said the TMVP had freed 14 child soldiers and pledged to remove the rest quickly. They released 38 in April last year.
"There are about 20 left according to our records and we will release them within two weeks, then we will go and check whether there are any more," the man better known by his nom-de-guerre of Colonel Karuna Amman told a press conference.
Muralitharan formed the TMVP from fighters loyal to him who defected from the mainstream Tamil Tigers in 2004. The group has since turned into a political party and Muralitharan last year was sworn in as a parliamentarian.
UNICEF accuses the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels -- and previously had accused the TMVP -- of abducting children or forcibly recruiting them.
Sri Lanka's military has cornered the Tamil Tigers in less than 400 sq km (155 sq mile) in northern Sri Lanka along with what aid agencies say are about 230,000 people trapped between the separatists and a Sri Lankan military onslaught.
UNICEF says thousands of children are caught in the fighting and estimates more than 1,500 children were still serving as soldiers as of mid-September, most of them with the Tigers.
The U.N. agency estimates more than 5,600 underage fighters have been recruited or re-recruited in Sri Lanka, the vast majority by the Tamil Tigers, since a 2002 ceasefire in the 25-year civil war broke down in 2006.
The TMVP helped the government evict their former Tiger comrades from the island's east in 2007, and won a landslide victory at polls in the eastern district of Batticaloa last year.
The polls were criticised by observers because the TMVP and its supporters were armed before, during and after voting.
Reuters Last Mod: 24 Ocak 2009, 11:51