Three LTTE marksmen make the grade in rifle shooting as sport

Dhaneshi YATAWARA in the Daily News,

The youngest and the most cheerful of the three was 24-year-old Suresh Kumar. The determined one was Thavendran (26), and the studious, Rajeevan (34). Different in character, yet the decision they took years ago gave them almost a similar result in life. The life they spent as LTTE cadres is now over. These three young men are turning a new leaf in life – a much greener and luscious one indeed. Rajeevan, Thavendran and Suresh today are budding sportsmen training to excel in marksmanship. Under the Sri Lanka Shooting Association the trio train in the game of shooting, aiming to be national champions. “At the very initial stage when we tested them for their level of talent the three showed skills above the average, for beginners. With a systematic training they have no barriers to excel in sport,” said Lt. Col. Dushan Wijewickrama (Rtd.), Secretary of the National Shooting Sports Federation of Sri Lanka and the national trainer. “These young men came to our training through a special initiative in the rehabilitation program as a result of a special discussion held between the Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Rehabilitation Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera, said Lt. Col. Wijewickrama explaining how it all started.

They need to go through a systematic training and we hope to train them in different categories of the sport selected according to their performances”, said Lt. Col. Wijewickrama. According to the trainers, Rajeevan, Thavendran and Suresh have promising shooting skills the same skill that was once given them by a ruthless terrorist organisation to kill another human being is opening a door for them today to give them a chance to bring glory to Sri Lanka. Over years of experience of seeing budding marksmen and women becoming excellent in their talents, the predictions of the trainers can be disregarded.

Lt. Col. (Rtd.) Dushan

The three marksmen are now training in the air rifle category. Initially, five ex-LTTE cadres were selected from the Rehabilitation centres including a girl, but two went home, having been released from rehab.

The Sports Ministry and the Sri Lanka Shooting Association is taking every possible step to give the three promising sportsmen a chance to win. Today, the three marksmen are staying at the sports hostel at Independence Square enjoying similar facilities given to other sportsmen and women training there. With transportation provided by the Sri Lanka Shooting Association, every morning they go to Welisara for training sessions. The Sports Ministry has agreed to provide the three sportsmen a monthly grant of Rs. 15,000. Food and accommodation are free, and two rehabilitation officers accompany them, as the trio still need assistance in their day-to-day work as they are not yet fluent in Sinhala.

Three months back 135 rehabilitees, good in sports were selected from the four rehab centres in Welikanda and Vavuniya and brought to Colombo to face a talent identification conducted by Sri Lanka’s national coaches. In this event five were selected for shooting, two for cricket, eight for swimming and three for karate. The authorities decided to select trainees as marksmen as a first step. “The two who were released were more interested in reintegrating into society and helping their families. So we accepted their decision to give prominence to the family and thus they could not continue with the training, said Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Brigadier Dharashana Hettiarachchi.

Why did the authorities suddenly decide to seek talent in sports among the rehabilitees? Answering the question Brigd. Hettiarachchi said, “The Rehabilitation process is focused on educational, spiritual and recreational aspects. And all the rehabilitees are in their prime youth. Under the guidance of the Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage and Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera we selected sports enthusiasts from among the rehabilitees.” The Rehabilitation authorities left the talent identification to the sports experts to decide whether there are talented youth with the capacity to reach national standards.

“After May 2009 around 11,000 ex-LTTE combatants surrendered to the Sri Lankan Government. The Government then decided to train the youth, discover their skills and re-integrate them as contributors to national development,” explained Brgd. Hettiarachchi. “A majority of the rehabilitees in their youth are the backbone of the country. “Today at rehabilitation centres we have only around 800 ex-LTTE cardres and the rest have gone back to their families, released at different periods. The 800 are in the process of completing their livelihood training courses and will be released in batches,” he explained.

The rehabilitation system established by the Government for the ex-LTTE combatants ensures that these young men and women will have safer place in society and with time their past forgotten.

The youth as any other young man or woman, desire to lead a successful life and use the full potential of their talents. As in the case of Rajeevan, Thanvendran and Suresh, bringing the talented into limelight and giving them support to succeed, has no barriers for championship.

Rajeevan hails from Thrinalveli, Jaffna. Today he is married and his wife is living in Kilinochchi. “She works in an insurance company in Kilinochchi,” he said. He was married when he joined the LTTE. His dream is to go back home and begin a beautiful family life. Soon after finishing his Ordinary Levels Rajeevan took to lathe work for a livelihood. “I liked it and was able to pick up the skills easily,” he said. In 1996 he comes to the Vanni district looking for a job and joined the LTTE as a technician. “My job was basically lathe work, but we were given a three month weapons training in 1996. After a few years I was more involved in the supplies of the organisation,” he explained.

Rajeevan stayed until the last phase of the conflict. Lastly he surrendered to the Sri Lanka Army at Wattuwal in Mullaitivu on May 17, 2009. “I cannot predict how successful I will be in this sport but I am ready to dedicate my fullest efforts to achieve the best possible level to the best of my abilities,” he said. “We have our family commitments too. It is our responsibility,” he added. To the youth, committing to practices while in Colombo is easy. “But when we get back home and start a job, we will face difficulties in continuing our practices. We need to find a new plan for that,” he added.

Thavendran 26, has studied up to the Advanced Level in the Commerce stream at the Kilinochchi Hindu College. In 2009, Thavendran’s family, living in Kilinochchi moved East to another village, Vishvamadu as shelling was intensified in Kilinochchi. “At Vishwamadu the LTTE came to our temporary camps and forced the youth to join their force. We had no other option so I joined,” he explained.

Today he is a skilled plumber and the shooting game seems exciting to him. Suresh Kumar hails from Mulliaweli in Mullaitivu and had studied at the Kalaimagal School. “My family is resettled now in Mulliyaweli and after I am released I will go there,” he said. Suresh is a good mason. In 2009, while their family was displaced the LTTE forcefully took Suresh into training.

The Sri Lanka Shooting Association is planning to expand their wings to the North and East too. “We are planning to visit schools and community based organisations to seek out good sportsmen from that community,” Lt. Col. Wijewickrama explained. “More than the weapons and the ammunitions what is essential is a firing range. It only requires 10 metres.

And today there are mobile ranges available. Our Association is seeking the possibility of purchasing such a range so that we could expand the sport beyond Colombo,” he added.

To the Association having the three young men is a strength to expand the sport to the North and East as well and the three budding marksmen are eagerly watching for that day to dawn.

Pic courtesy of Asian Tribune

Confidently they embraced the riffles. Never touched a weapon since they
dropped guns three years ago, the trio whose fingers were trained well
to trigger more sophisticated fire arms and get enemy targets, are now
in a different ‘game’.Trained as killer machines, they are to master riffle shooting to represent the country, which they tried to divide a few years ago.

Wearing a bright orange color T-Shirt with a logo ‘Friends of peace’, first comes Thayabaran Thaventhiran. Soft spoken youth in his mid 20s answered carefully avoiding eye contacts. He unknowingly touches his right limb, which was damaged during fighting in Pudukuduirrippu in Mullativu to prevent soldiers advancing in. He feels a slight pain when he stands for long but the injury hasn’t hindered his courage to become a fine riffle shooter.

Thaventhiran’s last day of schooling ended in November, 2008 with the LTTE conscripting him. The youth, who had big dreams of becoming an accountant, was trucked away with several other boys and girls in their uniforms into a jungle camp. Coming from an agricultural family with three boys and two girls, Thaventhiran had no option but to follow orders of the LTTE to become a fighter as the LTTE would kidnap his younger siblings to the outfit.

The LTTE, which was popular for using children for fighting escalated its recruitment drive as its cadres were getting killed daily. They didn’t spare children and young adults in strengthening its fighting capacity. Thousands of them died in fierce battle fields innocently but there were some like Thaventhiran who returned home with eternal scars. He joined his family in Kilinochchi while they were herding towards Puthumathalan by the LTTE.

Kanakasuntharam Rajeewan is the eldest of the three. The 34-year-old fair skinned man was a wielder by profession and joined the LTTE at his own will.“ We were told that Tamils need a separate country. The LTTE showed us how the Sinhala governments discriminated us. I felt a truth in it and joined the LTTE’s cause”, Jaffna born Rajeewan says.

After his three-months training in Pudukuduirrippu, he was assigned to construct buildings for computer units and LTTE’s offices. In the height of the war he says he was deployed to casualty evacuation.

Sellamuttu Suresh Kumar (24) who translates his friends story to me was also a victim of LTTE’s forced conscription.“ There were over 100 children and youth packed in a van. Every one was pleading the LTTE to let them go. But they took us to a small place near the beach in Mullaitivu and trained us for 20 days. We knew the soldiers were coming towards us. But the LTTE didn’t let us escape”, Kumar says.

The well built youth has a charming happy smile. During his 27 days of short stint with the LTTE,  he was trained to operate T- 56 efficiently. While everyone, including the LTTE leaders, cadres, and people whom the LTTE held as hostages were fleeing, Kumar joined his family and surrendered to the soldiers.

The trio who underwent rehabilitation in three different centres had shown their skills in shooting and have been selected to the national rifle shooters’ pool for the South Asian Games to be held in New Delhi next year. “ We want to become best shooters and bring honor to Sri Lanka. We are confident of winning at the Olympic games”, the trio say in confidence.

Like thousands of former LTTE cadres who are now with their families, Thaventhiran, Rajeewan and Kumar say they are fortunate to be alive. “True we fought against this country but that was not due to our fault. We didn’t have any other option and no knowledge about the reality outside the North. We believed all what the LTTE said”, says Thaventhiran.

Trapped in terrorism, they didn’t have a life beyond it. No hopes for future, they only wanted live for that particular day. “ Each day, we thought we would die at any given moment and thanked the God for saving us that day”, says Rajeewan.

“ We thought soldiers would cut us into pieces. I was shivering when I was surrendering to the Army. The LTTE lied us about every thing. ‘Ranuwam uiyar nanpan’ (Soldiers are friends in the heart)”, says Kumar.

With a high degree of trust and confidence, the government has given riffles to their hands to represent Sri Lanka at the next South Asian Games.

They received shooting rifles from Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage recently.  “The Ministry of Sports hopes they can represent Sri Lanka at the SAG. Ex -LTTE members who have shown exceptional skill, on par with national level athletes who have been selected for national squads,”  he said.

The three ex-terrorists, who were born and bred under the era of ruthless LTTE, will be flown to New Delhi next year carrying the message: : “ How beautiful the world is when peace prevails”.

In the meantime, Col. Dushan Wijewickrama, the Secretary of the National Shooting Federation (NSF) said that the three ex-LTTE cadres were identified at the talent identification programming and they will be given training on riffle training within two weeks at the Welisara Navy Camp. “ They are following a familiarization program about arms and ammunition at the moment as they have not been trained in sports shooting. Two national coaches will train them and if they perform well, then they will be chosen for the SAG”, he said.

The three shooters need to complete their training before June 2013. “They are doing well and start was quite well. We will be able to train them to a very high standard and according to their performances, one out of the three will be selected to the national team”, he said.

Col. Wijewickrama said it would take at least three years to ‘make’ a shooter. “They are given all the facilities like meals, accommodation, a monthly allowance and vitamin. The Minister has directed the officials to facilitate them to learn English during their free time. They will be taken thrice a week to the range to practice shooting”, he said.

The NSF Secretary said he was more concerned about getting a medalist at the next SAG and will provide them a calmer environment for them to be mentally sound, which is vital for a shooter.
Asian Tribune –

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