12/31/2008, 00.00
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Sixteen orphans kidnapped by Tamil Tigers are freed

by Melani Manel Perera
The news arrives after days of uncertainty surrounding the fate of the children and the events of their kidnap. The exploitation of children in the war between the army and rebels remains widespread despite the denials of both factions.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The 16 orphans kidnapped by the Tamil Tigers on December 23rd were freed overnight, vicar general of the Mannar diocese, Father Victor Soosai told AsiaNews. The incident, denounced on the very day it took place by the Ministry for Defence in Colombo is shrouded in mystery: the only sources of information were government ones and many observers deemed the episode a publicity move by the government aimed at further discrediting the Tigers.   Direct contact with the orphanage was impossible because all telephone lines were down.  Last night AsiaNews finally received confirmation of the children’s kidnap and release.

 Father Soosai says that on St Stephen’s night a group of rebels from the LTTE raided the Catholic orphanage of Boys Home D-8 Killinochci in Dharmapuram. They found the children who had not gone to spend the holidays with friends and relatives.  Fr. Arush Eric Roshan, the director of the institute together with a colleague attempted to block the rebels.  After having beaten the two priests the group tied the boy’s hands and feet dragging them away. The boys, all aging around 12 years old, were destined to become soldiers in the ranks of the Tamil Tigers.  After the kidnap a group of 30 local priests launched an appeal to the members of the LTTE asking for the children’s release.  The same priests had decided to begin a hunger strike today to obtain the boy’s freedom. In the night the LTTE have fred the kids.

 In the immediate aftermath of the announcement of the kidnap even the local church had difficulty in gaining information.  On December 29th Father Peppi, director of  Caritas Valvuthayam centre  Mannar, told AsiaNews: “We still cannot communicate with that area so therefore we don’t get any news from that area. It is sad ! I can not comment on this because so far I did not get any information on this incident.””.

 While waiting for more accurate information from Dharmapuram, even Chamila Livera, Buddhist and project manager of the NGO Amurt International, explained to AsiaNews: “if it is the truth, the incident of abducting 16 children from a Catholic orphanage is yet more proof of the use of children for war by LTTE”.

 For some time now, the Tamil rebels are accused of using child soldiers to replenish their ranks in the battle against the Colombo government.  Unofficial data documents that between 2002 and 2007 the LTTE has forcibly recruited at least 2 thousand children.  International protests did force the rebels to free the children with the claim that most of them were volunteers who had lied about their age when being recruited.

 The problem of exploitation of minors in the war between government forces (SLA) and the Tamil rebels has reached astounding proportions.  Days after the kidnap of the 16 boys from the Dharmapuram orphanage, the rebels had issued the photo and documents of a SLA soldier killed on December 28th during a battle in Mullaiththeevu district. The soldier was 17 years old.


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