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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 16:21 GMT
Focus on Sri Lanka war children
Two Sri Lankan children playing
Unicef hope children can avoid being conscripted

The head of the United Nations Children's Fund has visited rebel territory in Sri Lanka to discuss plans to improve education after 20 years of civil war.

Unicef chief Carol Bellamy
Ms Bellamy visited schools and children's homes
Carol Bellamy said little about the controversial issue of Tamil Tiger child soldiers which has overshadowed her visit.

After talks in the town of Kilinochchi, the head of the Tigers' political wing denied reports of under-age recruitment.

SP Thamilselvam said if there was concrete evidence to support such complaints they would take action against the culprits.

Improving lives

The Unicef chief is the latest in a series of high-level aid officials to visit rebel territory - a sign that the peace progress is affording the Tigers a degree of the international respectability they so badly want.

Group of child soldiers in Sri Lanka
A group of former child soldiers in Sri Lanka
Ms Bellamy was taken to see schools and children's homes as well as a centre for making artificial limbs for those disabled by landmines.

She said her discussions with the rebels focused on plans to improve the lives of war-affected children in general - saying nothing about whether the issue of child recruitment came up.

Earlier in the week, the Tigers suggested ill-disciplined junior members of their organisation might be responsible for continued reports of child recruitment.

And on Thursday, a rebel leader in the east of Sri Lanka suggested meetings take place between the Tigers district commanders, the cease-fire monitors and parents who complain their children have been forcibly abducted by the rebels.

Control

There is some concern about whether this would work because many parents who come from impoverished rural areas might feel too intimidated to confront rebel commanders with their grievances.

Local people in the east say they have received harrowing stories in recent months from sick parents whose children have been abducted by the rebels.

They say the rebels are recruiting children in violation of the cease-fire because adults do not want to enlist.

Local community leaders say child abduction is a way for the rebels to exercise psychological control over the people.

They says it also sends a message to the government that the rebels are still prepared for war if the peace process fails.


Peace efforts

Background

BBC SINHALA SERVICE

BBC TAMIL SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

30 Jan 03 | South Asia
22 Jan 03 | South Asia
22 Jan 03 | South Asia
01 Oct 02 | South Asia
20 Jun 02 | South Asia
11 Feb 02 | World
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