Sri Lanka

Child soldiers to be issue at S.Lanka peace talks

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By Scott McDonald

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The issue of child soldiers could dominate peace talks this week in Germany between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil Tigers to end two decades of civil war, diplomats said on Wednesday.

The fifth round of talks was to have focused on speeding up humanitarian work in war-hit areas, but accusations of continued recruitment of child soldiers by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) could overshadow that.

"It is something that will be on the agenda," said one Western diplomat. "It is something the LTTE has to deal with. It is what the donors look at."

Talks over the next several months are also geared toward a large donor conference planned for Japan in the middle of June that will raise aid to pay for resettling refugees and rebuilding their war-shattered lives.

In addition to killing 64,000 people, the war has also displaced more than one million.

The Tigers have admitted to recruiting child soldiers in the past but say that has stopped. They say the accusations are used to discredit the LTTE's bid to be seen as a legitimate group and cover up mistreatment of Tamil children by government forces.

"Tamil children were victims of deliberate massacres and indiscriminate firing by troops," an editorial in the pro-rebel Tamil Guardian said on Wednesday.

The London-based newspaper said "substantial progress on the issue of resettlement is of the utmost urgency".

Officials said a planned meeting in Berlin between the Tigers and the United Nations Children's Fund to discuss an action plan to stop the practice had not been finalised.

Ian Martin, a former head of human rights watchdog Amnesty International will also take part in the talks.

"The parties also intend to begin consultations on matters relating to human rights, with the participation of Mr Ian Martin," said a statement from peace mediator Norway.

The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state in the north and east for minority Tamils, who they say are discriminated against by the island's majority Sinhalese.

The rebels last year dropped their demand for a separate state and agreed with the government to discuss setting up a federal system that would give them regional autonomy.

The two days of talks starting on Friday are being held in Berlin after chief Tiger negotiator Anton Balasingham, who is ill, asked that they be switched to Europe from Thailand.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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