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Child soldiers re-educated in Sri Lanka

A year after Sri Lankan government soldiers defeated the Tamil Tigers, the former child soldiers who fought for the rebels are being rehabilitated.

Sri Lanka's government announced last May, it had defeated the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) after almost 30 years of civil war killed nearly 100,000 people.

The Tigers, who were fighting for a separate homeland, recruited hundreds of under age children to fight their cause. Some were as young as 12. Some were abducted from their families to fight. Training lasted for two months and then it was off to war. About one third of the children recruited by the rebels were girls.

Now as the country prepares to run its anniversary victory parade, which had been delayed because of bad weather last month, army officers are getting hundreds of former child soldiers back on their feet again.

Led by Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe, The Hindu College in the capital Colombo is rehabilitating 200 former child solders. "These children are victims," he says. "We are giving them the chance to start again."

English teacher, Bernardine Anderson leads a group of 15-year-olds at the college, which teaches both trades and academic subjects."These children mean everything to me,” she told a BBC correspondent. "I'm Sinhalese, maybe I'm the first Sinhalese person many of these children have ever really talked to."

When they first came to the college, Ms Anderson said, some of the children were very angry, even aggressive. "There was one boy who scared some of the teachers. But a couple of months ago it was as if he just switched. Now he's the most caring and he wants to carry my books."

As well as abducting children and forcing them to fight, the Tigers demanded one child from each family. Along with their weapons, each child was given a cyanide pill to use if captured.

Suresh, 15, fought on the front line. "The shells were exploding all around us," he said. “I saw bodies without heads, some without limbs. There was blood everywhere."

Most of these children will leave the college this summer and return to their home villages in the north-east. But the villages and towns they go back to have barely started to recover from the war. Many will have to live in tents and tin shacks with their families.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced this week he has set up a panel of experts to advise him on Sri Lanka’s human rights issues during the end of its civil war.
Hayley attribution