| Chandrika Kumaratunga
Colombo, Jan. 22 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s President said today Tamil Tiger rebels had recruited thousands of children and had nearly tripled their forces since a truce was signed last February, but she voiced support for talks to end the war.
Despite accusing the Tigers of a litany of ceasefire violations, her spokesman said President Chandrika Kumaratunga remained supportive of a negotiated solution to the ethnic conflict that has killed more than 64,000 since 1983.
“We must point out certain weakness, not with the intention of just creating trouble, but with the intention that they are rectified,” presidential spokesman Harim Peiris said.
“We believe if these weaknesses are allowed to fester they will eventually become threats to the peace process,” he said.
Kumaratunga, who is elected separately from the government, has control over the military as well as the power to sack parliament and the rebels have raised concerns that she could try to scuttle the peace process.
Her most serious charge was that the rebels, who have been fighting for self-determination for minority Tamils, have padded their ranks with more than 10,000 new recruits — most of them children — to bring their army to 16,000.
“Over 10,000 children have been abducted and forced into the armed cadres in the last year,” Peiris said, citing intelligence sources for the figure.
Nordic truce monitors have registered about 600 complaints of child abductions since March, but estimate that to be about a quarter of the true number of cases. Recruitment and training is allowed under the terms of the Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, but conscripting children violates international norms.
The President also accused the Tigers of smuggling weapons and harassing majority Sinhalese and Muslim civilians, especially in the ethnically mixed east of the island.
Rebel spokesmen were not immediately available for comment on the President’s accusations.