Shamindra Ferdinando, Island, 25 May 2011
An opportunity to perform at a five-star hotel would have been the last thing on their mind when the LTTE collapsed on the Vanni east front two years ago. Today, the majority of LTTE cadres taken into custody are free with those undergoing rehabilitation expected to come down to about 1,500 by end of this year. The military held about 11,700 LTTE cadres at the conclusion of the war in the third week of May, 2009.
At a reception held at the Cinnamon Grand (formerly Oberoi) on Monday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), a group of ex- LTTE cadres had a rare chance to perform for a distinguished gathering. The LTTE exploded a bomb at the Oberoi on January 21, 1984, killing one person. Trained at the Abhina Academy of Performing Arts, situated at Kalapura, Templer’s Road, MountLavinia, under the guidance of versatile actress Ms. Anoja Weerasinghe, the unprecedented show reflected the post-war reality. Their energetic performance enraptured the audience, including those sceptical ofSri Lanka’s rehabilitation programme, due to it being placed under the Sri Lanka Army. Under Ms. Weerasinghe’s guidance, several groups of ex-LTTE cadres and those affected due to terrorism received training at the Abhina Academy.Among the invitees were Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa, Senior Minister Dew Gunasekera, Minister Dilan Perera, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Maj. Gen. Sudantha Ranasinghe, Foreign Secretary Karunathilake Amunugama, Justice Secretary Suhada Gamlath and many Colombo-based foreign diplomats. The group posed for photographs with some of the invitees, including Basil Rajapaksa.
Sri Lankafirst received IOM assistance in 1990, following the Gulf War. Some 95,000 Sri Lankans fleeing the Gulf War received transport assistance. The agency set up office inColomboin 2002 and since then has been involved in the fields of labour migration, border management, human trafficking, and reintegration of those returning at the conclusion of the war and migration health. Perhaps, one of the most important decisions taken by the IOM was to throw its weight behindSri Lanka’s rehabilitation programme.
Addressing the gathering, IOM Sri Lanka Chief of Mission Richard Danziger said that since 1990 the IOM had assisted over 1,300,000 Sri Lankans. Danziger went on to say, “We thought we should use the occasion to express our gratitude to the Government of Sri Lanka, with whom we have worked so closely over the years, as well as to the many donor countries that have funded our projects and contributed so much to the lives of so many Sri Lankans.”
Ms. Weerasinghe, Chairperson of the Abhina Academy of Performing Arts, told The Island that theirs’ was an effort to welcome those who once carried guns to society. She emphasized that society, particularly the media, should be guarded in issues pertaining to ex-combatants. Agreeing with Ms. Weerasinghe, Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe went on to explain the importance of helping them to forget the past. Their involvement with the LTTE shouldn’t be an obstacle, now that the country was engaged in the national reconciliation process.
Maj. Gen. Ranasinghe said that more youth would be sent out from rehabilitation facilities next month. Maybe by end of this, those at rehabilitation centres could be about 1,500, he said, adding that the project was on track.
Dr. Hiranthi Wijemanne, who was present at the occasion, told The Island that the country could be rightly proud of its handling of the post-war rehabilitation project. She said that the Government of Sri Lanka had given an opportunity to those who once wielded weapons against the State.
The then Justice Minister, Milinda Moragoda spearheaded the rehabilitation efforts, with Maj. Gen. Daya Ratnayake, in charge of the project in the newly created post of Commissioner General of Essential Services at the conclusion of the war. Moragoda went to the extent of securing Defence Ministry approval to provide IOM access to the detainees. Danziger’s predecessor, Mohammed Abdiker played a pivotal role in the process. TheIslandwas given access to some LTTE ex-LTTE cadres during Abdiker’s visit to Vavuniya to coincide with President Mahinda Rajapaksa handing over a group of rehabilitated youth to their parents.
The UK was one of the first donors to support rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants. The IOM joined Sri Lanka to develop a community oriented demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programme. The programme focuses on strengthening capacity, support to receptor communities and the active involvement of the private sector, to build sustainable solutions.