Pradeep Seneviratne for Khabar South Asia in Colombo
A former member of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) looks back during a reintegration ceremony last fall in Colombo. The Sri Lankan government has invested Rs 300 million ($2.3 million) in rehabilitation career training and trade programmes for ex-LTTE cadres. [Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters]
In 2006, as he prepared to complete his high school education, Kanthasami Sathikumaran was abducted from Mullaitivu, his home town in Northern Province, and forced into conscription by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) during their desperate fight against advancing government troops. Sathikumaran was lucky enough to survive the onslaught. Along with his remaining LTTE cadres, he surrendered to security forces in 2009 at war’s end. He was rehabilitated at a centre in Vavuniya and reunited with his father, mother and two younger sisters in 2010. Finding employment, however, has not been easy. “We must get proper work. We did not intend to join the LTTE and waste our youthful lives,” Sathikumaran, now 22, told Khabar South Asia. “We were forced to join the organisation.”
A labourer carries a sack of vegetables past a Sri Lankan flag at the main market in Colombo April 1st, 2010. As part of a Civil Defence Force integration plan, rehabilitated former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres have been selected to work in agriculture. [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Reuters]
In a move welcomed by many in his situation, the Sri Lankan government has enabled rehabilitated former combatants to join the country’s Civil Defence Force (CDF). Originally created in order to protect villages from terrorist attacks, it now assists with a variety of peacetime activities, including reconstruction projects and farm work. For Sathikumaran, looking for a way to support his family, the government’s decision has opened a way forward. “I was without any work and the opportunity to be recruited by the CDF came as a godsend,” he said. “I hope I can rebuild my life with this opportunity.”
Filling the ranks: After the announcement was made in early July, potential candidates have been flocking to join. According to Rear Admiral Ananda Peiris, director general of the CDF, his office has received as many as 1,650 applications. On July 17th, he visited the Northern Province to identify land to establish farms where former cadres will work. “We will pay them a monthly salary of Rs.18, 000 ($137),” Peiris told Khabar. “The response is very good for the recruitment drive. We initiated this move to ensure better opportunities for them.”
So far 1,650 ex-combatants have been shortlisted for CDF jobs and many more will be recruited in the coming months, he said. In addition to agricultural activities and self-employment projects, private companies are also teaming up with the CDF in order to provide vocational training in professions such as masonry, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Major General Chandana Rajaguru told Khabar.
New responsibilities in the CDF: The Tamil National Alliance (TNA), the largest Tamil party, says it welcomes any measure to help the former-combatants. “We do not mind them being used in farm work as their livelihood,” TNA Parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran said, adding however that the party was more in favour of recruiting them for the police service.
Otherwise, he said, “why is it called the Civil Defence Force”? Professor N. Gnanakumaran of Jaffna University, meanwhile, said a high priority must be placed on reintegration. “As an academic from the Tamil community, I appreciate this move,” he said. “It is very important to give them a place in society.”
Mohamed Khaleel, 54, a Muslim trader from the east, said society should not close the door to former combatants because of their past activities. “In the east, we were under threat from the LTTE. That era is now over,” Khaleel said. “We should look to a future with reconciliation. Recruitment of them to the CDF is very good. Still, I wonder whether they should be given any security-related jobs. If they are used only in farm work, it will be fine.”
Rohan Gunaratne, an international terrorism expert in Singapore, said it is essential for the government and the private sector to look after the rehabilitated cadres. “Without governmental and private sector assistance to start a second life, they are vulnerable to criminality. By joining the CDF, they can become productive citizens,” Gunaratne told Khabar.