Sri Lanka`s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam group defended the recruitment of minors into its ranks and said it will continue to draft youths aged under 18.
The rebel group, which has been fighting for a separate homeland for two decades, rejected United Nations demands that it raise its minimum recruitment age from 17 to 18.
In a statement on its Peace Secretariat Web site, the LTTE said it`s not covered by international protocols barring ``armed groups`` from recruiting minors because it represents a ``de facto state`` in northern and eastern areas of the island under its control.
The UN`s Special Adviser on Sri Lanka, Allan Rock, reported in November that the Tamil Tigers hadn`t fulfilled a promise to release several hundred children from their ranks and had reneged on a 2003 pledge to stop recruiting minors.
The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child permits the armed forces of a state to recruit children over 15 years old. The 2000 Optional Protocol to the convention says that ``armed groups that are distinct from armed forces of a state should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.``
The LTTE ``provides extensive civil services in many areas of civilian life`` including health, education and child care, the group said, adding it`s no longer just an ``armed group.``
``A functioning, de facto state like the LTTE is entitled to recruit those above the age of 17 but not send them to the battle front,`` the statement added.
The group said it was no longer bound by its 2003 pledge to raise the recruitment age to 18 as other parties had also ``abrogated their obligations`` under the peace process.
A cease-fire, brokered by Norway in 2002, halted the civil war in the south Asian nation. The peace process collapsed last year as fighting erupted in the north and east and two rounds of peace talks in Geneva between the government and LTTE failed to make progress. The conflict has killed more than 60,000 people.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa last year ordered the creation of a commission to investigate abductions, killings and human rights violations during the conflict.
The 16-member commission, headed by former Chief Justice of India P.N. Bhagvati, met Feb. 12 and 13 and decided to investigate three cases, the government said in a statement on its Web site.
The commission will probe the August 2005 assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was shot by a sniper at his home; the killing of 17 aid workers from the French aid group Action Against Hunger in August 2006 and the killing of Muslim civilians in the northeastern town of Muttur, the Defense Ministry said.