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Sri Lankan bishop challenges rebels on child soldiers

A Tamil bishop in Sri Lanka has given Tamil militant rebels the names of children allegedly forced to serve in the rebel army.

Bishop Kingsley Swampillai of Trincomalee-Batticaloa last month handed over the names of 25 people, of whom 15 are younger than 18, to "Ramesh", the area military leader of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The list, which was presented during a meeting at Ayithiamalai parish, about 300 km northeast of Colombo, included the time and place of the alleged abductions, all of which reportedly happened since mid-December.

Bishop Swampillai told UCA News that during the meeting, which he said was conducted in a cordial atmosphere, the LTTE area leader insisted that his military outfit does not recruit anyone below the age of 18.

Meanwhile the Archbishop of Colombo has urged Sri Lankans to rededicate themselves to peace as the country celebrates its 55th anniversary of independence from British rule.

In a message issued for yesterday's anniversary, Archbishop Oswald Gomis said that while past celebrations were marked with reserve, today there is great hope for a just and lasting solution to the country's ethnic conflict.

Before the Sinhalese-led government and separatist Tamil rebels declared a truce and began peace talks last year, he noted, "there was fear on the part of those who celebrated the event" and "a sense of frustration and sadness among (Tamils) who believed they were not treated as part of the nation."

A truce in February 2002 paved the way for ongoing talks to end the nearly 20-year war that has killed more 65,000 people.

UCA News/UCA News

Child Soldiers of LTTE Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka (Society for Peace, Unity & human Rights in Sri Lanka - Australia)

5 Feb 2003