Berlin, Feb. 8 (Reuters): Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers pledged today to stop recruiting child soldiers, one of the biggest obstacles to the rebels’ hopes of being seen as a legitimate political party.
The rebels also agreed — at the end of two days of peace talks in Berlin on ending a war that has killed 64,000 people — that a former head of Amnesty International would draw up of a blueprint for human rights issues relating to the peace process.
“The LTTE has agreed to a complete cessation of recruitment of, and recruitment campaigns aimed at, persons under 18 years of age,” peace talks broker Norway said in a statement.
The Tigers have been heavily criticised internationally for their use of child soldiers, some in their early teens, during the two-decade ethnic war. They have been accused of continued forced recruitment of children despite previous pledges to stop.
The rebels last year dropped a demand for a separate state and agreed with the government to discuss setting up a federal system that would give the Tamils regional autonomy.
Norway said the rebels would work with the UN’s Children’s Fund on an action plan that “will include a credible review mechanism”.
The former Amnesty head, Ian Martin, is to prepare a plan on “substantive human rights activities and commitments to be implemented throughout the negotiation process”.
The plan, to include training of Tamil Tiger and government officials in humanitarian law, will be discussed when the two sides hold a sixth round of peace talks in Japan next month.
The Norwegian peace brokers said an agreement on the World Bank’s running of a reconstruction fund for war-hit areas would be signed within one week.
“The parties once again appealed to the international community to make funds rapidly available for immediate humanitarian and rehabilitation needs,” it said.
The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state in the north and east of the island for minority Tamils, who they say are discriminated against by the island’s majority Sinhalese.