HRW bombshell on alleged Govt. collusion in Karuna child soldiers
NEW YORK - The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the Sri Lanka government of violating international law by "facilitating child recruitment" and using the Karuna group as "a proxy force" in its battle against the LTTE.
In a detailed 100-page report, scheduled to be released on Wednesday, HRW says the abduction of children by the Karuna Group is taking place in areas "firmly under government control, with myriad military and police checkpoints and security force camps."
"No armed group could engage in such large-scale abductions, and then hold and train the abductees for combat in established camps, without government knowledge and at least tacit support," the HRW report said.
Charging that the Sri Lankan government is aware of such abductions, the report says that throughout last year, the Karuna Group has abducted and forcibly recruited at least 200 Tamil children in Sri Lanka's eastern districts. But the real nunber is up to three times higher due to under-reporting.
Titled "Complicit in Crime — State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group," the report has detailed interviews with parents and children caught up in the crossfire in the eastern and northern provinces.
The report says that throughout the two-decade long civil war, the LTTE has consistently recruited and used children in armed combat. The LTTE has deployed children in mass attacks during major battles and used them as infantry soldiers, security and intelligence officers, medics and even suicide bombers."Now the Sri Lanka government through a proxy force is implicated in some of the same abuse," HRW says.
The perpetrator is the so-called Karuna Group, and during the past year, "reports have increasingly linked Sri Lankan security forces with the Karuna Group in their common fight against the LTTE."
The Karuna Group maintains four or five camps about 10 kilometres west of Welikanda where the
Sri Lanka army's 23rd division, currently commanded by Brigadier Daya Ratnayake, has its base.
"Transporting several hundred abducted youth during the year to the Karuna camps would have been impossible without the complicity of government security forces: travel through the area necessitates passing through numerous checkpoints of the army and police." The report also says that both the government and the Karuna Group have repeatedly denied any coordination between them. "But for residents of Sri Lanka's eastern districts, government complicity in Karuna abductions is an obvious fact."
The report also points out that Tamil and Muslim civilians in Ampara, Batticoloa and Trincomalee districts say they see Karuna members working with the army and police at checkpoints to check IDs and that armed Karuna cadres walk freely through villages and towns in areas under government control. Although the government has promised to take some steps, HRW says it has not delivered on its promises.
On November 21, HRW says it wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa to ask how the Sri Lanka government would conduct its investigations. As of January 15, the president's office had not replied. The report urges Sri Lanka’s main donors -- the US, India, the European Union, Norway and Japan -- to pressure both the Karuna Group and the LTTE to immediately end their recruitment and use of children, as well as "the Sri Lankan government to take feasible steps to stop child recruitment and abductions by the Karuna Group."