The LTTE are some of the worst child recruiters in the world. Like suicide bombing, they pioneered the form and exploit it today. Child recruitment is terrible for obvious reasons, but the LTTE is worse in that it abducts the great majority of its child soldiers (see below). So, not only are children kidnapped, they are also forced into grueling military training, beaten, thrown into traumatic combat, and shot if they try to escape (HRW). When Karuna split he released more than 1,800 children who were subsequently re-recruited by the LTTE, and by Karuna. ‘Since May of this year, 135 cases of under-age recruitment by abduction have been reported to UNICEF, with evidence that this trend is accelerating’ (Rock Statement, referencing Karuna specifically). Karuna was LTTE and to think that a tiger is suddenly going to change his stripes is foolish. By helping Karuna, the Sri Lankan government supports and participates in child recruitment. It’s no big revelation.
The LTTE recruits children to fight. This is partly out of ruthlessness and partly out of necessity. There has been a mass exodus from the North and East of 2-300,000 people, not to mention about 14,000 cadres killed. The LTTE simply doesn’t have the manpower to wage the violence it promotes, so it gets children to do it for them. This is fucked up on many levels, but it is just one part of how the LTTE has deeply cannibalized the North and East.
The LTTE is one of the first insurgent groups to use children as combatants and suicide bombers. Assessments of LTTE soldiers killed in combat during the 1990s found that between 40-60% of the dead combatants were under the age of seventeen.
The total child recruitment by the LTTE, since the signing of the ceasefire agreement till 2004 end, is estimated at 3,516 children.
It is important to note here that the peace process has brought an unexpected twist to the child soldier issue. People are no longer willing to ‘donate’ their children to the LTTE. This has resulted in the increased abduction of children by the LTTE. As per the Human Rights report 2004, in 1994 one in nineteen child recruits was abducted, while the rest volunteered. Whereas in 2004, only one in nineteen volunteered, as due to the ceasefire, people see no reason to donate their children to the LTTE (Cost of Conflict)
That’s from a Strategic Foresight report I discussed earlier. It’s not big secret that the LTTE recruits children, and Human Rights Watch has been covering it,
The LTTE has a long history of recruiting children as soldiers and continues to do so in areas it controls. A Human Rights Watch report published in November 2004 documented LTTE recruitment of thousands of children since the beginning of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement. The report found that the LTTE often used threats, intimidation and sometimes abduction to bring children into its ranks. Prior to the ceasefire, children were routinely used in combat, and often deployed on suicide missions.68 During 2006, UNICEF reported that it had received an average of about 55 reports per month of children being recruited into the LTTE forces, though the actual figure is believed to be several times higher (HRW on Protecting Civilians)
So, the LTTE recruits child soldiers and everyone from human rights groups to NGOs to the Sinhala Chauvinists rightly berates them for it. It is a despicable process. It destroys lives and the future of the Tamil and Sri Lankan people. It should be condemned.
Before the Karuna faction split off, they were LTTE. I repeat, they were LTTE. That means all the bad stuff the LTTE did, they did as well. Suicide bombings, child recruitment, disappearances, assassinations, you name it. Any criticism of the LTTE applies equally to Karuna because they were LTTE
The TamilEela Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal [Karuna’s group] has been accused by human rights groups such as AHRC in the increasing involuntary disappearances of civilians in the Jaffna peninsula. They have been accused of taking part in death squad activity against civilians. They are also accused of child soldier recruitment by the UNICEF and in murdering Tamil civilians by the US State Department’s annual country report (from Wikipedia, which includes extensive citations on this para)
This is no surprise. A Tiger may wear a suit, but he doesn’t change his stripes. On child soldiers in particular,
Since June 2006, the Karuna group abducted more than 100 boys for their forces from several towns in Batticaloa district. After a decline in reported abductions in July, abductions by the Karuna group rose sharply in August after fighting between government forces and the LTTE intensified. Local human rights groups said that the location, time and manner of the abductionsâ€”all in government-controlled territoryâ€”strongly indicate that the abductors were from the Karuna group and not members of the LTTE (HRW on Protecting Civilians)
Karuna is just as bad as the LTTE, even if he’s ‘on our side’. His methods are still despicable, not only for the disappearances, murders, and assassinations, but for the children abducted to fight. He may be the ‘enemy of our enemy’, but he’s still an asshole.
Karuna and the Government
When Karuna split from the LTTE, that was a boon for GOSL. The LTTE immediately lost thousands of soldiers, including about 1,800 children. One of the East’s complaint was that they were cannon fodder for the Northern leadership, and now that fodder was gone. They also lost land and a skilled commander in Karuna. What was once a formidable enemy became a de facto ally. The Government doesn’t overtly support Karuna, besides allowing that office in Colombo, but it does support Karuna.
There are a number of indications that the GOSL is actively supporting the Karuna group. Known Karuna supporters have been seen moving to and from SLA camps, and it is evident that the security forces and police in some areas are not taking action to prevent armed elements from operating.
There were also strong indications that armed groups have started operating in and around Vavuniya. A number of civilians, mainly Tamil businessmen, have been killed during the last few months and it is believed that the main reason behind these killings is an attempt by an armed group to disturb LTTE activities in Vavuniya and strengthen their own position.
SLMM inquiries into incidents of armed violence against civilians in Vavuniya strongly indicate that SLA and Army Intelligence is supporting armed groups in Vavuniya district. (SLMM Report, PDF)
More to the point, most of the people bemoaning the Rock Report (via Jeyaraj) on child soldiers also support Karuna as someone who can weaken the LTTE. I’m not saying that supporting Karuna is even a bad strategic decision. All I’m saying is
Don’t Act Surprised
When you hear shit like,
“The mission also found that the so-called Karuna faction continues to abduct children in government-controlled areas of the east, particularly Batticaloa District. Since May of this year, 135 cases of under-age recruitment by abduction have been reported to UNICEF, with evidence that this trend is accelerating.
The mission also discovered a disturbing development involving the Karuna abductions. It found strong and credible evidence that certain elements of the government security forces are supporting and sometimes participating in the abductions and forced recruitment of children by the Karuna faction.
The mission met with the parents of many of the abducted children in Batticaloa District. As a result, it learned of eye-witness evidence that links the Karuna faction abductions to certain government elements. Based on the evidence as a whole, the mission concluded that some government security forces are actively participating in these criminal acts (Rock Report).
This isn’t news. The LTTE recruits children. Karuna recruits children. They both murder, assassinate and disappear people at will. They are both brutal, despotic and cruel. Just cause one happens to be attacking your enemy doesn’t make him a good guy. By supporting Karuna, even if only logistically through checkpoints, the government supports child recruitment. This is the ally GoSL has chosen and those are their methods. You can either rein Karuna in and protect the children in government held territory, or you can accept the blood on your hands. Bemoaning the BBC or Norway is fun, but we already have much worse bedfellows. By supporting Karuna, Sri Lanka now tacitly supports child soldiers, assassinations, and more. Perhaps this is the cost of war and perhaps it’s strategic, but it’s certainly no surprise.