Sri Lanka not to prosecute child LTTE soldiers: Rajapaksa

Mahinda RajapaksaIn a humanitarian gesture to Tamils, Sri Lanka has said that child soldiers recruited by the LTTE would not be prosecuted, and instead made to go to schools.

The gesture was announced by the President Mahinda Rajapaksa who said: "our hearts are not vicious. We will not prosecute children who are 12, 13 and 14 years of age and were forced to take up arms."

"We need to integrate them into society after rehabilitation," he said.

The President pointed out that the LTTE denied education to young children in the North and East by recruiting them as combatants to fight a "useless" war.

Rajapaksa was speaking in the holy town of Mahiyangana in Badulla District in the Uva Province on Saturday and he recalled that when the children in the South studied, the LTTE made the young in the North carry T-56 weapons.

He said the government has released all persons of 60 years of age and above in the IDP camps. The remaining 40,000 refugees are children.

"We have freed all those who are 60 years of age and above. We told them to go to their relatives," he said.

"If I was at an  IDP camp, then I would be freed too," Rajapaksa quipped.

Rajapaksa said he will not let the Internally Displaced Persons to remain in the welfare centers for long.

Stating that the island government has taken the basic steps to resettle the displaced people, he said it will commence as soon as the demining is completed.

"As a responsible government we are currently providing all the basic needs to the IDPs including all the facilities," Rajapaksa said.

He pointed out that nearly 40,000 children in the IDP camps are now holding school bags and text books instead of T-56 guns forcibly heaped on them by the LTTE in the past.

Last week Rajapaksa had told UN Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on the sidelines of the NAM Summit in Egypt that the displaced Tamil persons in Wanni would not be kept in the relief camps in the north for longer than necessary.

Rajapaksa said though it was only eight weeks since the liberation of the Tamil civilians from the LTTE was achieved, the Government was moving quickly to ameliorate the lot of the people there.

He said the land mines in the former LTTE areas were being cleared and proper infrastructure facilities would be set up for the proper rehabilitation of the people.

With regard to reconciliation, Rajapaksa told Ban this was a priority of the Government, and that work had already been initiated in this regard with the All Party Committee of Development and Reconciliation.

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