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Tsunami orphans swell LTTE ranks

January 26, 2005 20:29 IST

The Tamil Tiger rebels in Sri Lanka have recruited at least 40 child soldiers since the tsunamis hit the island nation a month ago, the United Nations children agency said on Wednesday.

"We have 40 cases of confirmed child recruitment since the tsunamis," UNICEF spokesman Geoffrey Keele said.

"We had hoped that with such a disaster the LTTE would have ended this practice. But, unfortunately, no."

He said 22 boys, of whom one was 13 years old, and 18 girls had been taken to swell the ranks of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam despite concern being voiced by visiting foreign dignitaries and diplomats.

All but one children were aged between 15 and 17 years, Keele said.

Almost 31,000 people died in Sri Lanka in the December 26 tsunami tragedy which devastated almost three-quarters of the island's coast and left nearly a million people homeless, both in the rebels' areas and elsewhere.

Three of the children were snatched from a refugee camp in north-eastern Trincomalee, another from the eastern Batticaloa district and the rest were from places in the northeast which are in the Tigers' control.

The UNICEF spokesman said the agency had hoped that the gravity of the unprecedented calamity would see a stop to the LTTE's child recruitment.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees last week discussed the issue of the recruitment of underage tsunami survivors with the LTTE's political head, S P Thamilselvan, who dismissed the charges as "misreporting by journalists."

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