Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan rebels assure visiting UNICEF chief of release of child soldiers

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Colombo (dpa) - Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka have assured the visiting UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy that they will release the child soldiers who have joined their movement.
Bellamy, before ending a three-day visit to Sri Lanka on Saturday, told journalists that the rebels had agreed to discuss steps regarding the discharge of child soldiers.

The visiting UNICEF chief during a meeting with the Tamil rebel political wing leader, S.P. Thamil Chelvam had raised the issue about rebels continuing to recruit children to their forces.

Bellamy said the rebels have agreed to open discussions with UNICEF about implementing steps to ensure no more children are recruited and to release child soldiers as soon as the next round of peace talks between the government and the rebels are concluded.

The next stint of peace talks are due to be held in Berlin, Germany on February 7 and 8.

Tamil rebels told her that though the movement had decided not to recruit any more children they could not rule out the possibility of junior members continuing their recruitment campaigns.

"We will continue to advocate that recruitment of children by the LTTE (Tamil rebels) should stop'', Bellamy told journalists.

The issue was raised in the wake of a large number of complaints about abduction of children by the rebels in the eastern province during the past few weeks.

The UNICEF chief leaves for Kathmandu, Nepal on Sunday ending a three day visit to Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan government and rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are currently involved in peace negotiations backed by the rebels.

Talks are aimed at ending the two decade old minority ethnic conflict in the northern and eastern parts of the country.

dpa sc bg AP-NY-02-01-03 0839EST

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Received by NewsEdge Insight: 02/01/2003 08:39:32

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