Sri Lankan rebels say children freed from their ranks

May 26, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers have released 16 youths who lied about their age to join the guerrilla movement, the rebels said in a statement received Friday. The Tigers maintain that their fighters are volunteers. “During the period of April and May, LTTE released 16 youths aged 15, 16 and 17 back to the family after they joined the movement lying about their age,” the statement from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam said.

Another 17 youths, whose ages were not given, did not want to return to their families and were placed in a centre for war-affected youths, the Tigers said.

Names of the 33 youths were provided to UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the statement said.

“A further 18 youths are in the process of being released,” the Tigers said.

New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a November 2004 report, said UNICEF had documented 3,516 new cases of underage recruitment by the LTTE between February, 2002 when a ceasefire was reached with the government, and October 31, 2004.

“The LTTE formally released only 1,206 children during this time,” Human Rights Watch said.

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