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Rebels release child soldiers

By CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Thirteen children who had been recruited or abducted to become soldiers in the Tamil Tiger rebel group were released Friday, according to UNICEF, the U.N. agency for children.

UNICEF had been demanding their release, calling the recruitment of children as soldiers "completely unacceptable." The children released are between 12 and 17.

The children released Friday were taken from around the towns of Batticalaoa and Valachchenai.

Some of them were among 20 children abducted within the space of two days in Valachchenai, prompting their parents and friends to block the road outside of a main school to protest and demand their return.

CNN reported early this week that the rebels had abducted some of the children while they were out walking with their friends. They were bundled into vans and cars and taken away.

The rebels' recruitment drive has turned to a nightmare for many parents in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where the South Asian country's Tamil population is centered.

In these areas, where the rebels control large chunks of territory, they expect every family to contribute a son or a daughter to their cause -- the establishment of a homeland for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

According to UNICEF, in September, nearly two children per day were drafted into the rebel ranks. But the true figure could be 10 times higher because many parents fear the rebels and do not report their disappearance, according to observers

The rebels deny they recruit children and say they have released hundreds of their child soldiers in recent months.

Earlier this month -- under international pressure and as part of a peace process with the Sri Lankan government -- the rebels agreed to start handing over their underage members in batches to UNICEF.

But the continued of recruitment country has led to serious doubts about their commitment to that agreement, UNICEF said.

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