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85 Child Soldiers Freed by Tamil Rebels, U.N. Says

September 12, 2002|From Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — In an unprecedented move, Tamil Tiger rebels have released 85 child soldiers in recent weeks and sent them back to their parents, ahead of scheduled peace talks with the government, UNICEF said Wednesday.

"The UNICEF is encouraged by the release of the 85 child recruits by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam," the U.N. agency said in a statement in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital.

The statement did not specify when the child soldiers were released. There are no estimates of the total number of child soldiers recruited by the insurgents.

The government and the Tamil Tigers are to start landmark peace talks Monday in Thailand, after 19 years of fighting in which more than 64,500 people have died.

The two sides have been observing a cease-fire since February.

In July, a Sri Lankan human rights group accused the rebels of using the cease-fire to forcibly recruit children as soldiers.

"Once more ... there are gangs visiting schools and villages and hauling away screaming children in tractor-trailers," the University Teachers for Human Rights group said at the time.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a homeland, saying the minority Tamils are discriminated against by the Sinhalese.

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