COLOMBO: In a startling revelation, the Sri Lankan Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Maj.Gen.Jagath Wijetilleke said that 6 to 7 percent of the 12,346 cadres of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) who had surrendered to the Sri Lankan armed forces at the end Eelam War IV in May 2009, were members of the dreaded suicide squad called the “Black Tigers”. The squad contained females as well as males.
“But the 12,077 young men and women who were rehabilitated and re-integrated into the society are today the most peaceful people, thanks to the Sri Lankan army’s comprehensive rehabilitation program. None of the rehabilitated cadres, including the suicide cadres, has indulged in any crime or violence since release,” General Wijetilleke told Express.
However, there is a critical difference between male and female cadres in terms of social acceptance after rehabilitation. While the males are able to get by in society, the 2269 females who were released into society, face scorn and rejection, Gen.Wijetilleke pointed out.
Changing the mindset of the hardened “Black Tigers” had not been easy, because the LTTE had chosen them carefully and trained them rigorously, he said, looking back at the rehabilitation process.
“They were brainwashed to hate the Sinhalese and made to believe that sacrificing one’s life for the LTTE’s cause is a glorious act. The LTTE chose young boys and girls who had nothing to live for. They were uneducated, and were from deprived and vulnerable families. The LTTE would starve and keep them in isolation for long periods to toughen them. They were also under strict surveillance by their handlers and could interact only with select people,” the General said.
But when these hardened ones got an opportunity to choose between life and death, they chose to live and surrendered to the Security Forces, Gen.Wijetilleke noted.
“ Today, the ex-combatants’ rejection of violence is total. Only 8 percent chose to join the police or the security services. Most cadres don’t want to carry a gun or explosives anymore,” he said.
With government assistance, men cadres have found employment or are doing small businesses. The largest chunk of them (29 percent) are self employed in small trades and businesses with government loans; 16 percent are in unskilled and skilled labor; 11 percent are in farming; 7 percent are employed in the private sector and 4 percent in the government sector; 8 percent are in fishing and another 8 percent are in the Civil Security department.
Of the 2269 women cadres who had undergone rehabilitation, some are employed. But the women are subjected to social hostility and rejection, the General says.
The latest report of the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation puts it bluntly: “ Women and children (who had been in the LTTE) have lost the respect of the community and are subjected to cultural vulnerability. Widows and disabled women represent 25 percent of the re-integrated population. Culturally and socially these remain vulnerable. Hatred shown by the community towards the beneficiaries (of rehabilitation) has created a stigma. These need to be protected from such vulnerability and isolation. Further, government officials have a tendency to resist addressing their grievances.”
Onus on State
Gen.Wijetilleke feels that the government should shoulder the responsibility of employing and looking after these unfortunate people in the absence of support from society and the local civil administration.
“The army which is now heavily involved in rehabilitation and social service, cannot do it for all time. The army is in it only because the civil administrative structure is still inadequate. The answer lies in strengthening the civil administration and making it sensitive to the needs of the rehabilitated ex-combatants and others. If this is not done soon, there is a danger of a return to violence,” he warned.
Siginificantly, about 2172 ex-combatants are still at large, posing the danger of a revival of militancy.
“Alas, we have no legal means to catch them and bring them for rehabilitation,” Gen.Wijetilleke sighed.