By Gagani Weerakoon in Kilinochchi
The only certainty in their lives was uncertainty – not knowing how long they will live – as they fought someone else’s war for almost 30 years willingly or otherwise. Nine years after the end of the so-called Eelam war between the LTTE and Sri Lankan armed forces, while many things in the country have changed, from infarastructure to a comparatively peaceful environment sans bomb attacks, one thing remains unchanged for them. Once again they live in uncertainty – uncertainty for how long they will survive.
It is this insecurity and fear of survival that may have led Emmanuel (44) to do something which he would have never imagined of doing even in his worst nightmare some 30 years ago. He who was in charge of LTTE Leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s largest armoury and chose how much ammunition and which weaponry should be taken out to attack government forces, recently held a can of petrol in his hand and led over 1,000 protesters to the Governor’s Office in Kilinochchi town.
He threatened to set himself ablaze if the Commanding Officer of the Kilinochchi Force of the Civil Security Department (CSD) Major Sagara Weerasinghe’s transfer is not cancelled.
Asked as to what led him to go on a suicide mission in favour of a military officer who fought against the LTTE Emmanuel said, “After returning from rehabilitation, we were in complete misery. I don’t know whether I have completely forgotten my hatred of military personnel as I went and pleaded with the LTTE leadership to recruit me to the organization after seeing my entire village being massacred by Navy sailors earlier in the 1980s.
“That is an ugly past that we are trying to erase from our minds. We need time and the right kind of assistance from the authorities to do that. We never want to hold a gun again. I died in May 2009 and this new life was given to me by these officers in 2012. If they are not there I don’t want to live in same misery anymore and that is why I thought of sacrificing my life so that at least others could live in peace.
“Our commanding officers are like brothers to us at times and sometimes they are like fathers. They treat us with love and respect. We do not know whether the next person who will come in charge will have the same attitude – be it a military officer or a civil administrator, a Tamil or a Sinhalese.”
Emmanuel is among the 3,500 former LTTE cadres and LTTE sympathizers who were recruited to CSD after undergoing the government’s rehabilitation programme following the 2009 May military conclusion of the Eelam war.
The employed cadres who expressed their gratitude to President Maithripala Sirisena for the decision he took in making them permanent in their employment after being on probation for almost four years, believe the answer to Geneva Human Rights Council is with them.
A group reformed LTTE cadres in the employment of CSD in conversation with Ceylon Today said their life was completely miserable when they returned from completing the rehabilitation programme.
“No one was willing to give us employment or help in any way as we were in the organization (LTTE). None of the Tamil politicians or the so-called Tamil Diaspora checked how we were going to live afterwards. If the government didn’t take a decision to absorb at least a few of us to the CSD, we don’t know what our lives would have been,” they said.
They also blamed Sinhala politicians in the South in the past for creating and nourishing communal violence which developed into a fully-fledged, ruthless war that lasted three decades.
“We fought by getting onto two sides. We lost our youth to a meaningless war for so long because politicians wanted it. Today everyone speaks about reconciliation without a proper plan. All we say is those, including the ones in Geneva should come to Vishwamadu or Kilinochchi to witness what real reconciliation is. We are working with trust, respect and love with military officers and members of other communities under a zero weapon concept,” they said.
Thevarasa and Thamilselvan, two former LTTE leaders who are now playing a lead role in the CSD said if the President visits them and requests them to represent Sri Lanka in Geneva to answer all the allegations, they will do so willingly.
“All we fear is about not having a proper plan to recruit other LTTE cadres who were rehabilitated along with us but do not have any employment. There are various local and foreign forces trying to take advantage of their misery. We fear if the government cannot come up with a proper plan to integrate them into the CSD or at least in the private sector, they will lose the will to continue and fall prey to someone once again,” they asserted.
Meanwhile, Joint Civil Security Headquarters Commanding Officer Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu, Lt. Col. W.W. Ratnapriya under who the 3,500 ex-LTTE cadres and LTTE sympathizers work in collaboration, said there are frequent protests and pickets by reformed LTTE cadres demanding they too be recruited to CSD.
“There are over 15,000 applications received. But the government has stopped recruitments. Even though we recruited these ex-combatants under minimal qualifications and on humanitarian grounds, it is extremely difficult to find them employment as a majority of them lack any qualification due to joining LTTE at very young age,” Lt. Col. Ratnapriya explained.
Thamilselvan hails from Matale and was the LTTE’s Monitoring Wing Leader till he was arrested in May 2009 by the Terrorist Investigation Department.
“We were forced to flee Matale as all of our property was set fire during ethnic riots in Matale in 1983. We came to Vishwamadu, Kilinochchi. After a couple of years, I joined the organization. I knew nothing about war. Had I stayed in Matale, I too would now have been a law abiding government worker but that wasn’t meant to be.
“Just because 13 army soldiers were killed in Thinnaveli, Jaffna some 100 miles away, our houses were burnt down in Matale. We are innocent but we were forced away from our homes and forced to take up arms.”
“Why did we fight for 30 years? My blood is red and so is yours. Sinhalese and Tamil fought each other but if you look far back into the history of both, you will find links of the other races somewhere. We all are connected somehow. We fought because we were given no alternative.
“No one wants to go back to that time again. The war ended and we were declared rehabilitated. But who looked after us after that? Neither a Sinhala nor a Tamil politician came and asked how we were doing. Not a single politician provided us with food. We had no jobs and had nothing to do in this godforsaken place,” he added.
The reformed cadres who are now employed said due to the decision to stop recruitments several of their former colleagues were deprived of leading a decent life.
“The ones who were deemed rehabilitated are now deprived the opportunity of joining the CSD. Those guys ask from us how come you, a former LTTE member who is rehabilitated, can be a CSD officer and I cannot? We don’t have answers for that.
“Some of us are good friends since the war time. Now we are quite well off but those friends are still finding it hard to find a meal. It saddens us. If rehabilitated cadres are eligible to be recruited to the CSD, why recruit a faction of them? Why not give us all jobs? Others are actually willing to join but since the government is no longer taking them, they are leading very sad lives. None of us went to war happily,” they said.
While noting what kindled the civil war was lack of development and lack of opportunities in the past, they warned that prevailing conditions, if not addressed could make things worse.
“We didn’t have water for agriculture. No schemes like Mahaweli are there for us. We always compared what we had, with what southerners had and saw the difference. We truly believed that the LTTE fought for the Tamil people. Now, several years after the civil war, it is the same thing that we are doing. We are fighting for our people but not with guns.
“The farm where I work employs 200 Tamils and it was to be closed down due to lack of water. I realized that no farm meant no job for any of them. That’s why we built a reservoir – it was to save our people, save our jobs,” said Thevarasa who has built a 30-acre tank in a farm run under the guidance of the CSD.
Then and now
Back then, it was a time of war but not everyone fought. According to Selvam and Thevarasa, civilian life in Kilinochchi those days was good. There were farms, there were mills, the paddy fields were not barren and they had jobs. They were deprived of some luxuries only the south could afford, but they didn’t complain.
Earning a daily wage of Rs 300 was more than enough to live decently at the time. This was even after reserving
Rs 100 out of that daily earning as savings. A kilo of a good quality fish was
Rs 50. One kilo of rice was Rs 20. A coconut was never sold for more than
Rs 10 back then.
It was after the war that living became tough for them. Rich soil is still there, but the water for cultivation is lacking. With income sources becoming scarce, many see no other way than falling victim, sometimes knowingly even, to various schemes of swindlers.
One of such rackets is the micro-finance scheme. Small loans with higher interest rates were given to small groups.
The finance companies make it a point to show as much as possible, a reduced monthly or sometimes weekly interest to be paid. What sounds easy in theory and small on paper, almost always proves to be a mammoth task on a low income.
Selvam revealed that so many people have committed suicide over not being able to pay a monthly interest, in some cases as little as Rs 3, 000.
They have easily been fooled. Right after his rehabilitation Selvam fell victim to such a swindle where he was sold a number of chicks which the vendor swore to be non-broiler ones. It was after few days that Selvam realized that he had been fooled with broiler chicks that had been dyed. His hopes of selling eggs to earn money died just like that.
With no other means of earning money, the next inevitable step for many such people was to resort to illegal means.
Some started brewing alcohol in their backyards. As good as it was, while it lasted, they eventually got arrested and imprisoned. While the breadwinner was in prison, the wife saw no other way of supporting the family than borrowing money. After a couple of months, the man of the house returns to a household burdened with even more debt. He sees no other way than brewing double the amount of illegal liquor he made to get his family out of debt. This then becomes a vicious cycle in no time. It was the CSD which finally broke the cycle.