Defence Secretary welcomes UN decision, calls for action against LTTE rump
Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa said the global community should realise that the contentious issue of child soldiers could never have been resolved if the LTTE had retained its fighting capability.
The Defence Secretary expressed these views responding to the United Nations Security Council Working group on Children and Armed Conflict closing its dossier on Sri Lanka after deciding that children in armed conflict were no longer an issue.
In spite of an unprecedented agreement between the UN and the LTTE, in 1998, to stop using children in combat, the LTTE continued to use children in combat to the very end. Colombo based diplomatic missions, including the UN were aware of efforts to save children from the LTTE.
LTTE cadres who surrendered to the Security Forces said the LTTE recruited children at gun point even in February 2009, three months before the conclusion of the conflict.
The Working Group adopted the ‘Draft Conclusions on the situation of children and armed conflict in Sri Lanka’ on December 19, 2012.
Defence Secretary Rajapaksa pointed out that those wanting to haul Sri Lanka before an international war crimes tribunal for eradicating the LTTE, had brazenly encouraged the LTTE’s use of child soldiers in combat.
“In fact, the images of child soldiers had been of great propaganda value to those promoting the LTTE, both here and abroad,” the Defence Secretary said.
He called for stringent action against those who encouraged the use of child soldiers. Prior to adopting the Draft Conclusions, the Working Group considered the report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Sri Lanka, and its recommendations in accordance with Security Council resolutions.
The UN in June 2012 de-listed Sri Lanka from the United Nations Secretary-General’s ‘List of Shame’ that lists countries where children are involved in armed conflict acknowledging that Sri Lanka “successfully completed Security Council-mandated programmes to end the recruitment and use of children.
The Defence Secretary said Australian born Adele married to former LTTE theoretician Anton Balasingham actively promoted the forcible conscription of children by the LTTE, which on its own released pictures of Adele with LTTE combatants in the Vanni during the height of the conflict.
He said she now lived a quiet life in the UK. He said the Balasinghams had been involved with the LTTE since the very outset. Commenting on the post-war national reconciliation process, Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said the government had given child combatants an opportunity to resume education.
“Even the rehabilitation process was nearing completion,” the Defence Secretary said urging the global community to give Sri Lanka the credit it deserved for eradicating terrorism.
The Defence Secretary recalled how a comprehensive study undertaken by the UNICEF at the end of the conflict revealed the forcible conscription of children by the LTTE. The UNICEF report was based on information provided by parents of those children abducted by the LTTE during the conflict, he said. One-time UNICEF Executive Director in Colombo Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne and retired career diplomat John Gunaratne told the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) how Sri Lanka’s effort to include child soldiers in the CFA agenda had been ignored.