22 January 2004 The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today called on the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka to stop recruiting children as soldiers and to release those it already has back to civilian life.
In a report on children affected in 2003 by Sri Lanka's civil war, UNICEF noted that the LTTE recruited 709 children during the year - nearly half between August and October.
The report stated that over the same period the LTTE released 202 children either directly to their families, or to the transit centre that was opened by UNICEF in Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka's northeast in October.
But UNICEF added it was aware, from reports submitted by families, that the LTTE still had 1,301 children serving with them.
In August, the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE agreed to a UNICEF action plan to monitor, report and tackle violations of child rights in the country's northeast. The Kilinochchi transit centre was set up as part of the plan.
UNICEF's report estimates that 50,000 children in the northeast are not attending school and about 140,000 have been displaced from their homes. The agency has called for an influx of teachers, health staff and social welfare workers to help local children.
The Sri Lankan Government is engaged in a peace process with the LTTE after two decades of civil war. The LTTE are concentrated mostly in the north and east and are seeking greater autonomy.