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(New York) - The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE, or Tamil Tigers) are recruiting children affected by the tsunami for use as soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch said that the Tamil Tigers, who were already recruiting large numbers of child soldiers, now may seek to replace forces lost to the tsunami with child recruits.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported Thursday on three cases of children recruited from camps for tsunami survivors in Batticaloa and Ampara, on Sri Lanka’s eastern coast. Human Rights Watch has received additional information on LTTE recruitment of children in Trincomalee and Jaffna.

“The Tamil Tigers are preying on the most vulnerable by taking advantage of children who have been orphaned or displaced by the tsunami,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Every effort must be made to stop this unconscionable recruiting from families who have already suffered so much.”

At a relief camp in Trincomalee, a 16-year old boy who had been recruited prior to the tsunami and later escaped told credible sources that he recently witnessed the LTTE recruit three girls from the camp. In Jaffna, independent human rights monitors documented LTTE recruitment of two 13-year old boys on January 3.

The LTTE has a long history of recruiting children as soldiers. A Human Rights Watch report published in November 2004 documented LTTE recruitment of thousands of children since a ceasefire between the government and LTTE took effect in early 2002. Human Rights Watch found that the LTTE often used threats, intimidation and even abduction to bring children into its ranks. Prior to the ceasefire, children were routinely used in combat, and often deployed on suicide missions.

Various sources estimate that the LTTE lost between 700 and 2000 soldiers during the tsunami, including nearly 400 women and girls who were washed away from an LTTE training camp in Mullaitivu. Sri Lankan government sources have reported that the LTTE navy suffered major losses.

“As the LTTE seeks to rebuild its forces after the tsunami, children are at enormous risk,” said Becker. “Children have always been targeted, but children who have lost their homes or families from the tsunami now are even more susceptible to LTTE recruitment.”

The LTTE is reportedly pressuring many camps for tsunami victims to relocate from government-held areas to LTTE-held territory. Human Rights Watch expressed strong concern that such relocation will put children at greater risk of recruitment.

Human Rights Watch called for intensive international monitoring of camps for tsunami victims, with special attention to vulnerable children. It urged international governments providing aid to affected areas in Sri Lanka to publicly condemn the LTTE’s recruitment of children and call on the LTTE to release the children in its ranks. The organization welcomed UNICEF’s efforts to register all orphaned and separated children and monitor under-age recruitment cases.

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