by D.B.S. Jeyaraj
The Conclusion of the long drawn out war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) organization has been welcomed by all sections of Sri Lankan society in particular and the international community in general.
Even as war ravaged Sri Lankans breathe a collective sigh of relief and attempt to get on with their lives in a post – war scenario ,it is important to note that the armed conflict’s end does not necessarily mean the national question generally referred to as the “Tamil problem” has been satisfactorily resolved.
Among the many aphorisms attributed to the Prussian soldier and military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz the most famous one defining war stated “War is not merely a political act, but also a political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a carrying out of the same by other means,”
If we are to use Clausewitz’s definition of war as a yardstick to gauge the Sri Lankan conflict, it would be prudently practical to recognize that the underlying reasons leading to such bitter and savage fighting must be identified, understood and addressed effectively for a lasting, durable solution.
It is also pertinent to realise that the intensity and prolonged nature of the conflict has spawned a set of new ,related problems. The consequences of war have created problems that are different from what were regarded as the original causes of the conflict. In short the consequences have gone beyond the causes.
A major area of criticism against President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government relates to the absence of meaningful action to address the fundamental causes of the conflict. Just as a military offensive was conducted satisfactorily there is an imperative need for a political offensive aimed at redressing valid Tamil grievances and accommodating legitimate aspirations of the Tamil people within a united Sri Lanka.
While the Rajapaksa regime is to be faulted for not effectively and efficiently addressing the political causes of the conflict it must also be acknowledged that the government is attempting in various ways to rectify and resolve some of the consequences of this conflict.
Some of these attempts are far from being perfect and do have flaws but that does not obliterate the perceived sincerity of purpose in the efforts undertaken. There is also the fact that many of these tasks remain incomplete with much to be accomplished. Nevertheless it must be accepted that a great deal has also been achieved in various spheres in this regard.
One such issue is that of former tiger combatants or ex-LTTE cadres. The manner in which this is being handled has caused much dissatisfaction and led to criticism.Basically this criticism cannot be totally discounted but the same time it must be said that despite faults some progress at least has been made on this front.
The phenomenon of LTTE surrendees posed an unexpected challenge to the government when the war ended. LTTE members numbering more than ten thousand had surrendered to the Army at different times and different places.
This was an unexpected reality that went against the grain of conventional belief about the LTTE. The LTTE with its cyanide capsule culture had projected an image that no tiger cadre could be taken alive by the enemy. An LTTE fighter would die in battle or swallow cyanide and commit suicide but would never ever be captured alive or surrender to the enemy was the general impression.
This however has not been the case in practice and there have been many instances of individual tiger cadres being captured or surrendering over the years. Nevertheless the myth persisted that no LTTE fighter worth his salt would be caught alive. Dramatic episodes like the Kumarappa – Pulendiran incident of 1987 or the Kittu – Kutty Sri affair of 1993 re-inforced this impression of the LTTE.
Even during the penultimate stages of the war much of the rhetoric emanating from LTTE ranks spoke of a fight to the finish rather than capitulation of any form. It was anticipated that the LTTE may court death en masse rather than surrender to the Sri Lankan armed forces.
This attitude was certainly true of the LTTE hierarchy and military command. A large number of senior tiger leaders including the Supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran along with a sizeable number of fighters fought to the very end. Several committed suicide by blowing themselves up or consuming cynaide.
There was however another side to this saga. While LTTE fighters were fighting to the death on the one hand ,thousands of other tiger combatants on the other were surrendering at different stages as the end of the conflict was drawing near. This process began after the fall of Paranthan and accelerated when Viswamadhu was taken.
LTTE members in small groups broke out from LTTE controlled areas clandestinely and turned themselves over to the Army. Some escaped in boats and surrendered themselves to the Navy in Jaffna and Trincomalee. Many inter-mingled with civilians and moved into army – controlled areas as part of the internally displaced.
The number of LTTE surrendees had exceeded four figures in early May 2009.The last stages of the battle of Mullivaaikkaal saw a very large number of persons both civilians and combatants surrendering to the armed forces. In fact the flow was so huge that the Army asked civilians and combatants to form two separate queues and move forward for processing at that time.
While a large number of LTTE cadres identified themselves openly as combatants and surrendered there were many who did not reveal their identity. They posed off as civilians and found refuge in the various IDP camps. Subsequently many of these cadres turned themselves in to the authorities when repeated appeals were issued that all LTTE members in IDP camps should voluntarily surrender or face repercussions. Some were apprehended upon information received from the IDP civilians.
An important cause for this large-scale surrender was the conscription factor.
Most of those who surrendered were youths who had been forcibly recruited by the LTTE. Some were “unwilling volunteers”.
The LTTE had insisted that each family in the Wanni had to provide one recruit to the LTTE. In the latter stages the tigers demanded two per household.It became an accepted norm that no family dared refuse or defy.
So many families would decide which of the children should join the tigers. In a spirit of self – sacrifice boys and girls would opt to join the movement and thus protect other siblings from being recruited.
Brothers would opt to join so that their sisters would be spared. Elder sisters would join in place of younger sisters. Usually siblings would decide that the cleverer among them should not be deprived of higher education and so the comparatively less studious ones would join thereby enabling the others to continue with studies.
Thus the LTTE had enhanced its membership quantitatively through these methods but there was a qualitative drop in the calibre of new members. Forcibly recruited youths and those who “volunteered” unwillingly do not make the best fighters. The motivation is not there.
Also a hard-pressed LTTE threw in these youths without adequate training or experience into the frontlines of war. As a result thousands of youths were virtual cannon fodder and had perished like sacrificial lambs. The surviving youths knew that death was inevitable if they continued to fight.
When the Army began advancing and tigers retreating there were opportunities to cross over to the other side. Just as the civilians did, these cadres too exploited the situation whenever possible and made their escape. One does not know whether the LTTE leadership realised their folly in forcibly recruiting youths. Even if realization dawned in the ultimate days it would have been too late.
It must also be emphasised that conscription or forcible recruitment was not something pioneered by the LTTE.
There was a time when none of the Tamil militant organizations had conscripted or forcibly recruited members. There would be intensive propaganda activity aimed at enticing new members into militant folds but there was no actual recruitment by forcible means.
Conscription or forcible recruitment was introduced by the Indian espionage outfit known then as the Research and Analysis wing(RAW) during the period when Annamalai Varatharajapperumal was chief minister of the North – Eastern Provincial council.
When former President Ranasinghe Premadasa began demanding that the Indian Army known by the euphemism “Indian Peace Keeping Force” (IPKF) should be withdrawn there was increasing pressure on the Indian establishment to do so. Rajiv Gandhi at the tail end of his prime ministerial term announced a phased out withdrawal of the IPKF.
It was a foregone conclusion then that the North – Eastern provincial council would not survive a predictable LTTE onslaught without IPKF protection. So a decision was taken to raise a militia to protect the provincial administration. In typical double-speak it was called civilian volunteer force officially but projected to the Tamil people as the Tamil national army.
Three pro – Indian outfits , Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front(EPRLF),Eelam National Democratic Liberation Front(ENDLF) and Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) were entrusted with the task of mobilising a civilian volunteer force cum Tamil National Army.
Since very few were ready to join the new force then , the RAW instructed the EPRLF, ENDLF and TELO to forcibly recruit youths. Thus began forcible recruitment in Tamil militancy. The LTTE adopted such methods after 1995. The LTTE and later its off – shoot the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puligal (TMVP) took conscription to new heights or depths.
Most of the surrendees therefore were forcibly recruited conscripts or unwilling “volunteers”.
There were also others. Not all the tigers were ready to die particularly when they knew their cause was lost. The right to life is the greatest of all human rights and there was nothing wrong in these tigers too opting to surrender in order to save their lives
Leap of Faith
Many of this category who surrendered were married with children. A large number belonged to non – combative sections of the LTTE like the Police force, political, propaganda, media and administrative cells, the banking, immigration, taxation, prisons sectors etc. There were also some from the fighting divisions.An assortment of LTTE members and families were among the large IDP population.
It is also noteworthy that the very act of surrendering to the armed forces was by itself a gigantic leap of faith for these tiger cadres. The notion had been instilled into their psyche that getting into the clutches of the army would result in death, torture, inhuman detention and sexual violations. Despite these fears thousands of tiger cadres had risked surrendering to the army than facing death. In a sense surrender was the lesser of two evils. In actual terms there was indeed no choice.
It is also commendable that most of the surrendees were accepted by the armed forces with a great deal of compassion. Certain controversial acts of commission and omission may have been done during the heat of battle but it is certainly an indisputable fact that a very large number of LTTE surrendees were spared and detained without being summarily executed. The rules of war were followed scrupulously in these instances. Otherwise there would not have been such a large number of surrendees.
There was much confusion and deficiencies in catering to the IDP’s during the initial post-war stages . The government had gravely blundered in failing to anticipate such a large influx of IDPs and thereby making adequate arrangements to accommodate it. There was also no proper screening and identification process of IDP’s or surrendering tiger combatants in the early days.
After many mishaps and much confusion the Govt finally got its act in reasonable working order. When the figures were finally tabulated and data bases compiled the govt found itself saddled with nearly thirteen thousand LTTE combatants. They were housed in twenty places in the north and east at the start.
Initially the govt was in a quandary. Though authorities realised that many of the youths were conscripts and unwilling volunteers, the fact remained that they were indeed LTTE members. They could not be categorised generally as IDP’s and treated as such. There was a need to screen them effectively first. Thereafter a policy decision had to be taken on their future. Were they to face legal proceedings ?or be re-integrated after rehabilitation ? or both?
There were also questions of security,logistics and political sensitivity. With loose talk of LTTE sleeper cells and bombastic pronouncements from internationally active LTTE elements the question of security was of crucial importance. The govt could not take chances with security as the possibility of some cadres escaping from custody could not be ruled out. The govt was also fearful of the pro – tiger Diaspora influencing these surrendees and transforming them into a lethal fifth column.
There were also issues of logistics and political sensitivity. The state found it rather difficult to cater to these ex –tiger cadres.The govt would certainly have liked to enlist the services of external organizations to assist in dealing with the LTTE surrendees. But due to previous experience the Govt was wary or virtually paranoid about NGO’s.
It feared that NGO involvement would lead to disproportionate focus on negative rather than positive aspects. The govt suspected that some NGO’s were responsible for “leaking” negative information about IDP camp conditions to the western media. Given the links between some NGO’s (not all) and the LTTE in the past the govt was also concerned about potential collaboration detrimental to the national interest.
Then there was the question of media exposure. The fact that thousands of LTTE cadres had surrendered was something the govt could have used to derive much propaganda mileage. But the govt desisted from such a course due to two factors.
One was that the govt did not wish to violate acceptable norms by publicly exposing these surrendees amounting to prisoners of war. It was also unsure about what kind of statements would be made by these detenues.
The second reason was that it feared the exercise may turn out to be counter-productive. The media could provide negative instead of positive publicity by sensationalising matters and spotlighting defects rather than merits.
Thus the Govt decided to tackle this issue independently with the help of international organizations such as UNICEF and IOM rather than other non – governmental organizations. It also decided to restrict media access to these surrendees. In the preliminary stages access was denied to even family members.
Screening and interviewing of the surrendees enabled the authorities to profile each person individually. On that basis two broad categories were identified. The first category comprised those regarded as “hard core” and those belonging to suicide cells known as “Karumpuligal” or black tigers.
The LTTE had at one point of time, 1500 cadres enlisted as black tigers or suicide commandos.Of these black tigers 548 had surrendered to the armed forces. In addition there were 737 persons classified as hard core members. They were people with long years of experience in the LTTE and suspected of being involved in major offences under the law.
These 1285 persons were separated from the others and housed in three different detention facilities. Two were for men and one for women. The ratio of men to women in this category is roughly two to one. These persons are kept amidst tight security conditions and there has been very little access to them.
Investigations are continuing with these persons and the chances are that many would face legal proceedings in due course. As for the black tigers there is a strong possibility of them receiving an amnesty after undergoing an intensive reformatory rehabilitation program. A final policy decision is yet to be taken.
Rehabilitation and Re-integration
The second and much larger category consisted of “soft elements”. These were mainly the conscripts and from the non – military sectors. These persons were seen as people in need of rehabilitation and re-integration into society at large. The final count in this class was 11,696 comprising 594 children and 11,102 adults. The children consisted of 363 boys and 231 girls. The adults consisted of 9,078 men and 2024 women.
In their case a very welcome and praiseworthy decision was taken by President Rajapaksa. Instead of subjecting these people to legal proceedings a blanket amnesty was declared. They were to be released and re-integrated into society in a gradual, phased – out manner. They were not labelled as combatants but as people requiring rehabilitation. The idea was to rehabilitate them in every sense of the word.
This important function was entrusted to the Bureau of Commissioner – General of Rehabilitation. The Bureau was geared up to perform this task by the end of August 2009. Major – General Daya Ratnayake was appointed Commissioner –General. The minister in charge then was Justice and Law reforms minister Milinda Moragoda.
Eighteen places were set up to house these persons in Aug 2009. They were called Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres (PARC). This number has come down to twelve now as thousands of people have been during the past months. Eight of these PARC ‘s are in Vavuniya, three in Batticaloa and one in Jaffna.
There was a change early this year when Maj-Gen Daya Ratnayake was appointed Chief of Staff in the Army. He was replaced by Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe of the Engineers regiment. Brig. Ranasinghe’s appointment was dated Jan 30th and he took up duties formally on February 9th 2010 after a brief multi- religious ceremony in which clergy of all four major religions participated.
There was another change in April when Parliamentary elections were concluded. Communist Party stalwart DEW Gunasekera became the minister in charge of rehabilitating the ex –LTTE personnel. Comrade DEW was appointed minister of rehabilitation and Prisons reform. His deputy minister was GV Vijayamuni Zoysa. When sworn in DEW Gunasekera had been instructed by President Rajapaksa to expedite the release of ex –LTTE members after rehabilitation.
Children of school going age were given a choice of continuing studies or learning vocational skills. 373 children opting to study were brought to Colombo Hindu College, Ratmalana initially. Afterwards they were transferred to Jaffna and Vavuniya. The others were taken to Ambepussa and given vocational training.
1170 of the surrendees were disabled persons having lost limbs in the war. They were released and allowed to be with their families. These included some hard core tigers and senior leaders. Likewise persons over the ages of 50 were also released.
148 among the surrendees were University students from Jaffna. Initially these undergrads were given leadership positions among the detenues and used to instil disciplinary norms. Later 51 female undergrads were released and allowed to resume studies in Jaffna. This was followed by 97 male undergrads. There are no undergrads being detained now.
Conditions in the preliminary stages left much to be desired. As time progressed conditions were better. Access was provided to family members. The wall of suspicion between the detenues and custodians went down gradually. The authorities were appalled when they heard of the atrocious manner in which many of these youths had been abducted by the LTTE. The surrendees began to perceive the authorities as sympathetic human beings rather than enemy agents as seen earlier. Currently the expenditure involved n maintaining these surrendees at PARC facilities is estimated at Rs 400 for each person per day.
Novel, worthwhile schemes and procedures have been initiated to enhance the process of rehabilitation. Chief among them is the scheme by which 600 girls are getting trained in Garment factories in the South. The girls are given free food and lodging and also paid 12 – 15,000 rupees per month as allowance. This money is actually a saving for them. There are plans to open new garment factories in Kilinochchi to absorb these girls later.
Mass marriage ceremony – Jun 2010 – pic: indi.ca
Another interesting development was the mass marriage ceremony where 106 men and women detainees were united in matrimony. Forty one among the Fifty three couples were Hindu, Eleven were Catholic and one was Protestant Christian. They were married according to their religious rites and order of worship. A village with 53 housing units were built in Pambaimadhu for the newly wed couples to reside. It was named “Saathaana Kiraamam” in Tamil and “Saama Gama” in Sinhala.
The Rehablitation Com –Gen , Brig, Ranasinghe when contacted over the telephone last week by this writer disclosed that the 11, 696 figure of August 2009 had come down to 7,948 now. This included 1101 females.
Brig. Sudantha Ranasinghe said that once he cleared rehabilitees and awarded them their certificates of release they returned to their families and homes. The Police and other civil authorities in the respective areas were duly informed. Thereafter these rehabilitees need not report anywhere. They were free to lead normal lives without any restriction or monitoring.Brig. Ranasinghe said the released youths had his contact details and could communicate with him at any time.He said that people were being released every month.
The commissioner -general also spoke about the various schemes of training and education in process. He spoke of on the job training in the garment industry, imparting of vocational skills, training in Montessori teaching , advanced English Information technology and Drama therapy(conducted by Anoja Weerasinghe)
Brig. Sudantha Ranasinghe
He also spoke in glowing terms about 364 students sitting for the GCE (AL) exam this August and 174 for the GCE (OL) exam next December. Every effort is being done to coach and prepare them for the exams . A Tamil expatriate organization and Tamil NGO are helping with this.
“A good number of these youths will get through with three A’s at least. They have nothing else to but study. In fact some of these students are eligible for release but their parents want them to remain here until the exams are over because there are no proper facilities to study in the homes of these newly re-settled families” observed the Commissioner-general.
“The greatest gift I can give them is education or some form of professional training. That is what will help them to restore their lives in the future.” Said Brig. Ranasinghe
Brig. Ranasinghe was quite passionate about his mission and outlined in two telephone conversations , what had been done in the past and what is being done at present and what would be done in the future. Brig. Ranasinghe seemed slightly miffed at the lack of awareness about the rehabilitation program and about the unfair adverse propaganda abroad.
Apart from speaking to Brig. Ranasinghe this writer also spoke with four people who had visited these PARC facilities and had a first –hand impression of what was happening there. In addition to these people , this writer also communicated with seven released rehabilitees including three undergraduates. This writer also communicated with eleven close relatives of persons housed at these centres.
The information gathered by communicating with these people along with details provided by Brig. Sudantha Ranasinghe gave this writer a vivid insight into what was happening in this sphere. This writer intends continuing this topic with greater depth and detail in a forthcoming article.
There are however four salient points regarding this issue requiring elaboration and emphasis.
The first is to recognize that the bulk of these surrendees though ex –LTTE combatants are basically forcibly recruited youths with practically little or no fighting experience. They are not battle hardened fighters. From that perspective it must be said that the pace of rehabilitation and release is slow.
The efforts to educate them and/or train them in vocational skills is commendable but the period of being held in PARC facilities is quite prolonged. The govy must expedite the process in the next few months and ensure the release of all these “soft cadres”. In fact a mass release of these surrendees would be most welcome. The govt should set a clear time frame for release within this year and meet it.
The second point is that a very large number of Tamils are yet being held under emergency regulations and Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) at Welikade, Kalutara, Negombo and Boosa. To put it mildly it does seem incongruous and inappropriate that such a large number of persons should be in custody despite the LTTE being demolished and the war ending in May last year. Instead of continuing to let matters drift indefinitely the govt should take a firm policy decision and award an amnesty to all these people and release them forthwith.
The third point is that an unknown number of LTTE surrendees or captured prisoners from the Wanni who have been co-opted into the security apparatus. These persons are being used by the intelligence services to provide information about LTTE structures and personnel particularly the intelligence network in the Island.
Among those involved in this exercise are former Jaffna political commissar Ilamparithy, Sports division chief Pappa, Administrative division head Thangan, prison warden Ranjith and Women division political head Thamilini. In addition to these better known persons there are a large number of ex –LTTE political and intelligence wing operatives who are working along with the state at present.
This again is a contradiction of sorts. On the one hand thousands of youths with minimal and involuntary involvement with the LTTE are being held for more than a year and subjected to an extended period of rehabilitation pending release. On the other hand senior members of the LTTE with conspicuous track records are enjoying greater freedom because they are collaborating with the state.
The fourth and most significant point is about the “disappearance” of several LTTE members who surrendered to the Armed forces. The exact number of LTTE cadres who surrendered to the armed forces at the frontlines is not known. What we have now are the figures tabulated after the surrendees were housed at detention facilities. Even here a number of persons were taken away for questioning by the military intelligence. Some did not return.
Balakumaran and Yogi
Under these circumstances there is a group of surrendered LTTE cadres who are not accounted for. Among these are prominent tiger leaders like Balakumaran, Yogi, Thilakar, Para, Puthuvai Rathinadurai, Velavan etc. Information garnered from other surrendees point to the fact that these well – known senior tiger leaders had not been killed in battle and had surrendered. But their whereabouts are not known now and are regarded as “missing”.
Apart from these better known tiger leaders there are some others too who had surrendered and are now “disappeared”. Family members in Sri Lanka and abroad have received information from reliable sources that these persons had surrendered and not been killed.
In some instances there is information that they were seen in IDP camps. But when attempts were made to check the data bases about those in detention or undergoing rehabilitation there is no record of these people.The fate of these nondescript LTTE members is not known.Sadly it is a problem concerning mainly the immediate family
The “disappearance” of better known LTTE leaders however is a question receiving wider and greater attention. Former EROS leader KV Balakumaran is a leader of great stature. He was a senior member of the LTTE “shadow cabinet” and was featured prominently and regularly in the media. Balakumaran’s daughter was injured and had been transported to Trincomalee with her mother in an ICRC vessel some days before the Mullivaaikkaal debacle.
Balakumaran who himself had been injured a few weeks before had surrendered to the Army along with his nineteen year old son. He had reportedly identified himself to the army and had been treated with courtesy by army officers. People had seen an army officer shaking hands with Balakumaran. Father and son were put aboard a tractor –trailer vehicle with some others and driven away. Nothing has been heard of both since then
Yogaratnam Narendran alias Yogi was the political wing head of the LTTE in 1987 and was the person who handed over arms to the govt in terms of the Indo-Lanka accord in 1987. He was removed from his post and expelled from the movement in the aftermath of the Mahathaya crisis when the former LTTE deputy leader was charged with conspiring against Prabhakaran and executed after undergoing detention and interrogation.
Yogi re-joined the movement a few years ago and was apponhted in charge of the military history and military analysis division. Yogi’s wife and child had left the Wanni earlier along with other civilians earlier. Yogi himself had mingled with civilians and crossed over to the army through the Vattuvaagal causeway in the last days of the war. He had been held in an IDP camp and had access to a telephone . He had soken to several relatives and friends in the early days. Yogi was subsequently identified and taken away. He has not been heard of since
The spouses of both Balakumaran and Yogi are now in Jaffna. They had tried in various ways to find out about their husbands but had no success. There seems to be no official record of both. It would have been easy to assume that they were among those killed in battle but for the fact that there is information available that both had surrendered to the army. There were also reports in the Colombo newspapers last year that Balakumaran and Yogi had surrendered.
Recently Rehabilitation minister DEW Gunasekera told a newspaper that the widows of Balakumaran and Yogi had met him in Jaffna. He was then questioned by the BBC tamil service about the fate of Yogi and Balakumaran but had no answer. Cabinet spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was also asked about Yogi and Balakumaran and replied that he had no information.
This then is a crucial question. What has happened to Yogi and Balakumaran and others who had surrendered about whom there is no information available. While the govt is to be praised for rehabilitating and releasing thousands of ex –LTTE cadres who had surrendered it must also be queried about the fate of these tiger members who had surrendered and are now in the realm of the “disappeared”.
While the govt should be praised for its enlightened approach towards acknowledged surrendees it must also be asked to furnish answers to questions regarding these unaccounted surrendees. Accountability cannot be shirked by a responsible Government.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org