Sri Lanka to rehabilitate child soldiers

Monday, May 25, 2009

Colombo - The Sri Lankan government has told the United Nations that it will reintegrate former child soldiers into society as productive citizens.

This follows the conclusion of the island's long civil war and a two-day visit by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

In a joint statement issued at the conclusion of the visit, the two sides recognised that the large number of former child soldiers forcibly recruited by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as an important issue in the post-conflict context.

"(Sri Lankan) President Mahinda Rajapakse reiterated his firm policy of zero tolerance in relation to child recruitment. In cooperation with UNICEF, child-friendly procedures have been established for their 'release and surrender' and rehabilitation," the statement said.

It added that the objective of the rehabilitation process presently underway was to reintegrate former child soldiers into society as productive citizens.

"The Secretary General expressed satisfaction on the progress already made by the government in cooperation with UNICEF and encouraged Sri Lanka to adopt similar policies and procedures relating to former child soldiers in the north," the statement said.

The government said earlier that around 10 000 LTTE fighters, including child soldiers, had surrendered to the government troops in the last several months.

At the invitation of President Rajapakse, Mr Ban visited Sri Lanka from on Friday and Saturday.

He held talks with both the President and the Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama as well as other senior leaders.

The UN chief also visited Internal Displaced Person sites at the northern district of Vavuniya and flew over the conflict area near Mullaittivu where the government troops and the rebel LTTE fought their final battles.

Sri Lanka's 30-year civil war came to a conclusion last week with the total defeat of the LTTE.

Last week, South Africa called on the Sri Lankan government to allow humanitarian aid into the areas affected by the violence.

According to the UN refugee agency, the number of civilians who have fled the fighting in northern Sri Lanka over the last few months has now reached 280 000. This includes an estimated 80 000 people who have left the former combat zone in the last three days.

The UN refugee agency said it had put up 25 000 emergency shelters, and is putting up an additional 10 000, to accommodate the tens of thousands of civilians who have left the combat zone and are expected to arrive seeking shelter in the coming days.