Sri Lanka rights abuses rising, both sides blamed
COLOMBO, Aug 24 (Reuters) Renegade Tamil rebels allied to Sri Lanka's government are kidnapping children to fight in the conflict-torn nation, Human Rights Watch claimed today, adding that rights abuses had soared with fresh violence.
The first three weeks of ground fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels since a 2002 ceasefire has left the north and east of the country in chaos. But even before that, more than 800 people had been killed since January and kidnappings, murders and ambushes were common.
''Since the resumption of large-scale warfare, we have concerns about both sides failing to heed basic humanitarian law,'' Human Rights Watch senior legal adviser James Ross told Reuters on a visit to Sri Lanka.
''And just because there is large-scale fighting going on, doesn't mean the problems we had before have gone away. There's a lot of blame to share around.'' Both the government and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) frequently report atrocities by the other side, but almost invariably deny responsibility themselves.
There are no firm figures for the number of civilians killed by fighting in August, but truce monitors say it is probably hundreds.
Ross said it was clear that neither side was taking steps to avoid civilian casualties.
CLEAR LINKS ''There are specific instances we are looking into where it appears they might have used human shields,'' he said. ''It appears the LTTE was fighting with rockets in the vicinity of schools where there were displaced persons with a possible aim to protect themselves from military response.'' Extra-judicial killings by both sides were common, he said.
Recruitment of child soldiers by the Tigers has long been part of Sri Lanka's war. The LTTE say it has ceased, but Ross said it was clearly continuing and condemned it.
But a disturbing new worry was the abduction of children by renegade former rebels, he said. The renegades, called the Karuna group, are fighting the Tigers and although the government denies backing them, few people are convinced.
''The linkages between the Karuna group and the government...
seem to be very clear,'' Ross said. ''In order for the Karuna group and others to abduct children in government areas they would have to go through government checkpoints,'' he allaged.
The government has never been implicated in child soldier recruitment in two decades of civil war. Only a handful of states are accused of using children to fight, and Ross said it was not a list the government would want to be on.
''I think the Sri Lankan government would be very unhappy to be compared to the Burmese government, one of the most abusive governments in the world,'' he said. ''Any involvement of the military in child abduction is something they should take very seriously.'' REUTERS LL VV1541