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09COLOMBO229 2009-02-27 08:51:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Colombo
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1. (C) SUMMARY: On February 26 Charge attended the launch of
the GSL campaign against child soldiers. In his remarks at
the event President Rajapaksa focused on the LTTE's use of
children in combat but pointedly singled out Eastern Province
Chief Minister Pillaiyan in an oblique reference to the
continuing problem of child soldiers in the TMVP. UNICEF's
statistics on the number of child soldiers in the TMVP have
continued to decline to 41 at the end of January but a clumsy
January 22 "release" of children by the TMVP caused great
frustration for the government and UNICEF. Police in the
Eastern Province will now be empowered to secure the release
of child cadres in the TMVP. End Summary

President Launches Campaign


2. (U) On February 26, in front of senior government
ministers, TMVP leader and Eastern Province Chief Minister
Sivanesathurai Chadrakanthan ("Pillaiyan") and Member of
Parliament Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan ("Karuna Amman")
President Rajapaksa launched the GSL's public information
campaign against child soldiers. The event marked the GSL's
fulfillment of one element of the Memorandum of Understanding
(ref C) signed by the GSL, UNICEF and the TMVP in December to
release child soldiers and prevent their future recruitment.
However, instead of discussing the TMVP, the President
focused his remarks on the incidents of child recruitment by
the LTTE, saying that the use of child soldiers had "stained
the image of Sri Lanka" and needed to be eradicated. During
his remarks Rajapaksa did tellingly single out Pillaiyan, a
former child soldier himself, and say that he (Rajapaksa)
"knew that we can count on (the Chief Minister) in this
campaign" an implicit reference to the still unfulfilled
pledges by the TMVP to release all of their child cadres.
The following day's press coverage of the speech spun
Rajapaksa's remarks as an attack on UNICEF's "failure" to
deliver child soldier releases by the LTTE, however UNICEF
Country Representative Philippe Duamelle reported to Charge
on February 27 that the President was angry at that
characterization and intended to put out a statement
supportive of UNICEF's actions in the country. Charge, who
attended the launch, remarked on the professional quality of
the posters and radio and television spots that will air
across the country to communicate the government's "zero
tolerance" policy on child soldiers.

UNICEF's Numbers Decline but
TMVP Commitment in Question


3. (C) In addition to the launch of the public information
campaign, the growing coordination between UNICEF, the TMVP
and the GSL has produced some movement on child releases by
the TMVP. As Duamelle relayed to visiting SCA/INS Acting
Director Kelly during her February 5-6 visit (ref A) the TMVP
January 22 "release" of 15 child soldiers was "disappointing"
since some of the fifteen had apparently been recruited that
same day to inflate the number of releases for UNICEF.
Despite that disappointment, UNICEF's child soldier figures
have declined do to individual releases and children "age-ing
out" by turning 18. At the end of January, 41 cases of
children under 18 still serving in the TMVP were known to
UNICEF. UNICEF's statistics also document very small but
continuing cases new and re-recruitment of children each
month. For example, in January UNICEF reported 2 cases of
new recruitment and 4 cases of re-recruitment by the TMVP.

Eastern Police Now Empowered to Secure Releases



4. (C) As a result of the GSL's frustration with Pillaiyan,
Karuna and the TMVP generally on child soldier releases,
Justice Secretary Suhada Gamalath, the GSL point person on
child soldiers, reported to DCM that the police in Eastern
Province would now be empowered to secure the release of the
children still being held in the TMVP.

5. (C) COMMENT: Both Duamelle and Gamalath, while expressing
frustration over the halting progress could not say for sure
whether the TMVP's bungled efforts to produce releases on
January 22 was the result of incompetence or outright
deception. Either way, both UNICEF and the GSL will now turn
to the police to secure more releases. The actions taken on
child soldiers since New Year's echo the halting progress
that marked 2008. The GSL, including Karuna (Ref B) and
Pillaiyan, have made strong oral commitments to end the use
of child soldiers. The launch of the public information
campaign is only the latest example of such efforts. The
struggle has always been, and will remain, turning those
words into deeds. While Post is encouraged that the overall
number of outstanding cases known to UNICEF has dropped from
76 in June 2008 to 41 in January 2009, we remain concerned
about the continuing low levels of new and re-recruitment and
note that part of the drop in overall numbers is the result
of still-serving cadres, who were recruited as children
simply reaching their 18th birthday. Post will continue to
work with UNICEF, the TMVP and the GSL to secure more
releases and prevent future recruitment.