On Friday President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated that Sri Lanka has taught the world how to reintegrate ex-combatants into society, at a ceremony held at Temple Trees to reunite 1800 ex-combatants to the custody of their parents. The rehabilitation process of ex-LTTE combatants has now come to the final stages with only 1500 ex-combatants in the custody of the security forces. At this crucial juncture Mirror Insight takes a closer look at the rehabilitation process and the future prospects for these ex-combatants.
The forces identified 11,700 cadres of whom 594 were child soldiers, during the last stages of the war and thereafter at the IDPs camps. Nearly 9500 ex-LTTE cadres were re-introduced to society in batches by the government throughout the last two years. Many of them abandoned the rebel outfit and surrendered to government forces at the height of the war. Though there were 24 rehabilitation centres at the inception, there are only nine rehabilitation centres at present. A sum of Rs.750 million has been allocated for the rehabilitation process for this year. From 2009 to 2010, the government has spent Rs.1.8 billion for the rehabilitation process followed by Rs.774 million from 2010 to 2011.
The courses envisaged for these cadres included vocational training and improving language skills, to allow them better prospects. According to the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms, detained LTTE cadres included mainly fighters. However there were a number of drivers, cooks and other aides of the rebels among the detainees.
Ten per cent of the former combatants are child soldiers who have had no education whatsoever. Nearly 70 per cent haven’t received any education beyond the eighth grade and some of the cadres are now receiving formal education for the first time. Some have sat for the GCE Ordinary Level Examination recently.
The one-year rehabilitation programme provides vocational training in information technology, sewing, plumbing, electric work, carpentry, mason work, welding, metal work, etc. with the expectation that these persons can earn a living once they are integrated into society.
In September last year, the government organised a special job fair in Vavuniya for these cadres who completed rehabilitation and vocational training. Over 25 private sector organizations in various fields such as garments and construction participated in the job fair.
The government vowed that it has taken steps to use the rehabilitated cadres in the development process currently underway in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. The primary objectives of the government’s rehabilitation process are; to provide them with vocational training and language programmes and courses, engage them in sports and extra-curricular activities, create awareness among the public on their role in accepting these former combatants and assisting them to rebuild their lives, social communication and family oriented activities and involvement in cultural and religious activities.
Presently the cadres in the rehabilitation process are undergoing a final test in mason skills, handicraft work and painting.
Rebuilding lives through
The rehabilitation process is carried out under the 6+1 model. There are vocational training, psychological therapy, educational and social community programmes, sports and extra curricular activities. The former combatants are currently in nine rehabilitation camps and undergo 16 different courses, in a timeframe between three to nine months.
The ex combatants were separated from the IDPs, to offer them to catch up with education programmes and initiate them for a smooth transition from an offensive force to humanitarian rehabilitation. They were closely monitored by the Army mainly for individual behaviour and level of radicalization.
One of the primary and most exigent tasks of the government is to prepare and educate the public on accepting the former combatants into society, not only in the North and East but in all parts of the country. The state authorities through their agents, community leaders and religious leaders in their areas have been asked to take steps to assist rehabilitated cadres to build their lives from scratch.
The most important attribute of the rehabilitation process is to make sure that they will not return to old habits or patterns of thought. An identity card and a letter with the government seal is given to each of them before they are released which helps the government and other law enforcement agencies to have a cordial relationship with these cadres. However, the cadres are monitored by officers of the area police station for a short period.
Most of these cadres who were released went in for self employment by obtaining bank loans. The government also promised that they would be provided with financial assistance.
The rehabilitation came under the direct purview of the Rehabilitation and Prison Reform ministry headed by Minister Chandrasiri Gajadeera. A special Commissioner General was appointed directly to overlook the affairs of these cadres.
What does Rehabilitation really mean?
The ex LTTE cadres despite the patriotic chants and branding of many nationalists, are sons of this soil. They were born and bred in this very country and had the gumption, either at first forcibly or out of sheer passion or brainwashing to take on a government and cripple a country for thirty long years. They have breathed the fresh air that swirls around the Indian ocean, have played on this very soil and bathed in rivers that flow within the 64000 square kilometres of the Island.
This is not in any way justifying the terrorism that flowed through their weapons during that period nor is it an argument justifying their cause. These cadres are inherently Sri Lankan and the matter ends there.
It must be understood that these combatants are merely the ‘cadres’ of the LTTE, they are the ones that didn’t play any role in the decision making process of the terrorist outfit but simply carried out orders from those at the top.These persons were committed to a cause, whether right or wrong is a subjective value judgment. The ones who were forcibly recruited had no choice but to believe that this was the right way to get about achieving their cause. Ignorance would be the main if not the only factor that influenced them in this process. With no access to the world around, no communication with a Sinhalese, being brought up in an environment in which all you hear are the atrocities committed by the ‘Sinhala regimes’ would have propelled anyone to take up arms.
The government has taken a far-sighted decision in choosing to rehabilitate them, instead of keeping them incarcerated. Like the youth of 1971, many members of the LTTE have gone through the process under the close supervision of the government. The question however is will the narrow definition of rehabilitation serve the larger purpose of integration?
A cricket match with Sanath Jayasuriya and Dallas Alahapperuma, a trip to the south and the meeting of Indian actor Vivek Oberoi at a mass wedding ceremony is well and good, but are we actually willing to reintegrate them into our society without the harsh branding of “ex-LTTE”.
What does the wider definition of ‘rehabilitation’ entail? We believe it should entail hope. Hope for these youth that they would have space to voice their opinion, to voice their concerns, frustration, and displeasure and to feel they are a part and parcel of a community that will give them a patient hearing.
The country- nationalists, moderates and extremists alike have to provide a forum for these youth to voice their displeasure and concern. They have to be infused with hope that they would be treated equally, that they would be treated fairly and justly. They need to have hope that a just system would provide them with another go at life.
It is only then that ‘rehabilitation’ would have served its inherent purpose. Rehabilitation is not a destination, it is a journey. We have to come together to accept that these young men and women are the children of our soil. Men and women who could help this country achieve greater heights and youth who would help shape a better future for their kith and kin. We need to give them space because that is exactly what they lacked, we must give them hope – hope of a better future for them and their community because hope arouses, as nothing else can – a passion for the future