New York, 20 February 2009 – "The protection of civilians, especially children, must be the first priority in the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka and both sides must act accordingly," said Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must release the civilians to safety, especially the children. The Government must be more circumspect with regard to artillery fire and aerial bombardment to avoid civilian casualties. "Images of children killed, maimed and wounded from the Vanni area of Sri Lanka are truly disturbing", said Ms. Coomaraswamy.

"Forced collective suicide is an option that cannot be tolerated", the Special Representative added. The LTTE has a moral obligation to save the lives of children in its custody. Recruiting young children as combatants for almost certain death is a despicable strategy. The Government for its part must realize that these children are citizens of Sri Lanka and even if saving them requires a military strategy of forbearance, it is essential that their lives are protected.

The international community has a duty to work with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the treatment of internally displaced children meets international standards. Child soldiers must be rehabilitated and not punished.

News reports of IDPs languishing in camps in Mannar for over a year while new camps are being built gives cause for concern. "We hope that the present policy of resettling IDPs as soon as possible will be implemented fully and that they can exercise their freedom of movement," concluded Ms. Coomaraswamy.

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For further information, please contact:

Ms. Laurence Gérard, Communications Officer, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict – Phone: +1 1212-963-0984