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Sri Lanka rebels to end child soldiers

Both sides say they want to see a more peaceful future for Sri Lanka's children
Both sides say they want to see a more peaceful future for Sri Lanka's children

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BERLIN, Germany -- Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels say they will no longer recruit child soldiers.

The agreement came at the end of two days of peace talks in Berlin aimed at ending a war that has killed over 60,000 people over two decades.

Announcing the decision Norwegian Foreign Ministry state secretary Vidar Helgesen, who is brokering the peace talks, said the rebels had agreed to work with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to produce a plan for the demobilization of child soldiers.

"The LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) has agreed to a complete cessation of recruitment of, and recruitment campaigns aimed at persons under 18," he said.

Chief Tiger negotiator Anton Balasingham told reporters that although there had been earlier pledges to halt the practice there had recently been some isolated cases of child recruitment to the army.

However, he added that in the last six months, the Tigers had reunited over 350 child soldiers with their parents.

Furthermore several senior Tiger officials had been dismissed following investigations into child recruitment, he said.

"The LTTE has made a solemn pledge to UNICEF to cease all recruitment of under-aged children...whenever children want to join we will now check their ages," Balasingham told reporters.

The two day meeting in Berlin also saw the rebels agree to let a former head of the human rights group Amnesty International draw up a blueprint for rights issues linked to the peace process.

Ian Martin will draft a program and set of commitments for the government and the Tigers to adhere to throughout negotiations.

The plan, which will include training of rebel and government officials in humanitarian law, is to be discussed further in a sixth round of peace talks scheduled to take place in Japan next month.

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