By Shenali Waduge
The Mullaitivu district was the preferred home, training and hiding base of the LTTE leader for over 3 decades. It was also where the LTTE met its Waterloo. 30 years of absolutely no changes despite a host of foreign NGO/UN presence has seen remarkable changes in just 3 years something people need to finally admit. Mullaitivu is a district that has strategic importance and explains why foreign intelligence and Tamil political parties are attempting to gain a foothold to once more deceive the people. Mullaitivu is certainly a perfect model district to show how people can distance from separatist thinking, accept their own former allegiance to LTTE but resolve to reconcile with a new tomorrow devoid of separatist ideology assisted by the armed forces who are giving a great support made easier by the excellent communication network that give the armed forces an edge over civil services.
The exact number of civilians is questionable. 1981 census revealed 77,512 (with 3,948 Sinhalese) the 2012 census puts the population at 91,947 (inclusive of 8851 Sinhalese) in a district that comprises Thunukkai, Manthai, Oddusudan, Maritimepattu, Pudukudiruppu and Weli Oya within an area of 2,516.9 sq.km. The population rise is probably due to original occupants now returning to Mullaitivu and should encourage more Sinhalese to settle in the North and start agriculture.
It was from the Mullaitivu district that LTTE captured the majority of children who became LTTE’s child combatants and the fact that there is hardly 15,000 school going children in a district that has over 115 schools reveals this sordid truth. It also reminds us of the Sensolai “orphanage” bombed on 14 August 2006 which was a LTTE training camp disguised as an “orphanage” in the area of Vallipunam in the dense jungles of Udyarkattu (Puddukurippu) where LTTE also ran a secret torture camp and none of the UN offices who jumped to issue statements that Sensolai was not an LTTE camp can explain why an orphanage should be located in the thick jungles! The 4 June 2006 “graduating” ceremony of 10,000 Vanni residents in Puddukurippu trained by LTTE is further proof.
Those who have been to Mullaitivu a district of possibly less than 60,000 civilians during LTTE rule would realize the helplessness of these civilians – their choice was to either side with the LTTE (cooking and hiding their weapons) or face consequences. Complicity aside it is these same civilians who now have been liberated from 30 years of mental trauma and three years on is it too soon to be expecting them to openly shower their appreciation upon the armed forces?
Questioning barriers to reconciliation is several incidents that have taken place obviously with the connivance of foreign intelligence or Tamil Diaspora. One such is the hoisting of the LTTE flag in Alambil area, Mullaitivu for Heroes Day and the other was in Jaffna with university students wanting to pay homage to dead LTTE. The Government must not hesitate to declare that LTTE is a proscribed terrorist movement and any such open commemoration is strictly prohibited and banned while no one has any right to separate Sri Lanka.
In stark contrast young children who realize the difference in LTTE and armed forces are getting on perfectly with their new found heroes – men who they know would not kidnap them and make into killers. This is the start of the much needed trust factor. With soldiers now able to converse in Tamil the children show no reluctance to approach the military and speak with them. This is certainly a major obstacle that has been overcome without any third party and between children and the forces striking a healthy chord. It is something that the Government could well do to tap employing further exchange of students, greater prominence towards language communication – the youth of tomorrow is unlikely to commit the same mistakes their elders made and language is certainly a key factor.
Why is it that despite the large presence of UN/INGOs and NGOs throughout LTTE rule with projects that covered protection, health, nutrition, food security, agriculture, water, education, infrastructure, shelter and housing and mining –there is absolutely nothing to trace any of these projects and few civilians to even acknowledge such. Which leads us to question what have the UNICEF, UNHCR, UMCOR, IOM, MTI, HI, WHO, UNFPA, WFP, CARE, UNDP, OXFAM, CORDAID, SCISL, PWJ, ZOA, UNHABITAT, FSD, CTF, RDF, World Vision, World Bank, DRC, WUSC, FAO and over 50 such organizations been doing in Mullaitivu all these years. In terms of population Mullaitivu is a district which had the least number of Tamils in an area that was 2,516.9 sq.km and questions why there is a need for so many NGOs to be present? Of course the LTTE made sophisticated bunkers – these could not have been done without special vehicles and with numerous arrests by Sri Lankan forces of these international agencies assisting LTTE even transporting weapons it is now time for the Government to open an investigation into the manner UN/INGOs and NGOs functioned in Sri Lanka and their role in assisting terrorism. There was a time that even the armed forces were demoralized by former officials and present advisors when the war was said to be unwinnable and even LTTE had sent “official” letters after the CFA asking soldiers to abandon the North and return home to their wife and kids.
Gratitude perhaps in nothing one can expect overnight from a community whose thoughts and emotions had been suppressed and repressed by the LTTE indoctrinating hatred for the Sinhalese through 3 decades. However, the security forces have not stopped at simply eliminating terrorism and in the Mullaitivu district the security forces have shown remarkable compassion seen by the passion with which they handle the civilians. Led by Mullaitivu SF Commander Maj. Gen. Marc ably assisted by Brigadiers Rukmal Dias, Jagath Wijetilake and Dhammika Pananwella a good synergy of teamwork and without much media coverage is what anyone visiting Mullaitivu can observe.
From IDP camps to new homes – these Tamil civilians will soon receive a new brick 550 sq.ft (2 bedroom/bathroom/kitchen/living room) house on a 40 perch land each, dry rations for 6 months, access to hospitals, school and ability to carry out a livelihood without fear whilst they have kept their former cadjan hut as a reminder of how they lived. These brick houses built by the army take 19-20 days to complete. In case many are not aware these soldiers do not have any proper home of their own and some do not even have electricity and it would be good for people to remember this. But they work diligently to build a “home” for people who once hated them is something they are not given enough credit or applause for. Already the armed forces have built over 65 such houses at the cost of 325,000 as against 50 houses built by India at a cost of Rs.575,000 taking 2 years! With LTTE making over USD300m annually supported by the Tamil Diaspora did they build better homes, roads, schools and health facilities for the Tamil people and begs to question why after 3 decades elements of the Diaspora are so concerned about the living conditions of their people now?
The Keppapilau model village is certainly worthy of mention as these are civilians who were part of those who had been saved by the armed forces in 2009. Their gratitude is certainly something that needs mention as they have been quick to realize the political gimmicks of the Tamil National Alliance and desiring to have nothing to do with them. As liberated citizens it is best that these villagers are now left alone to pick up their lives which was at a standstill for over 30 years – they do not need politics to complicate their lives even the neighboring nation who are trying their best to get a foothold in Mullaitivu district realizing that these civilians are not as easy to persuade as those in the other districts.
As an onlooker at a donor presentation in the 80 acre Keppapilau Model village in the Wattappalai area where 165 families have been given a new home, the manner that NGOs actually function reveals the hypocrisy of their charity movements globally. Most NGOs maximize on electronic print and media strategies to promote projects for which there is a large outpouring of funds. The donation of 100 bikes and cooking utensils was less than one third of the cost that went towards the travel costs, food, lodging and other logistics need of over 10 donors arriving from overseas! The painstaking truth is that for Third World nations, natives in need anything is better than nothing whatever amounts is pocketed as administrative costs by these charitable hearts.
It is also a good time for the armed forces to insist that of the 40 perches gifted to each family 10 perches be allocated to grow some form of agricultural item as the soil is perfect for such and the military can handle the food supply chain using its logistics to transport goods to the consumer helping both farmer and consumer bridge the additional costs profited by the middleman.
It is with the advent of peace that natural human emotions come to play and just as the south of Sri Lanka is witnessing many personal tiffs and vendettas, the jealousies, mistrusts, selfishness is very much prevalent amongst these newly settled Tamil civilians. With unlimited assistance pouring in a wave of laziness has also made inroads into a rural society used to hard work. Anyone arriving in Mullalitivu would experience groups of civilians approach their vehicles thinking that santa has brought further gifts!
We are now in a crucial juncture. The reconciliation process must first come from within the minds translated into actions by the Tamil civilian populace most of whom have been groomed to hate the Sinhalese whilst not having any contact with them. Such blind hatred lasting 30 years takes a long time to heal and certainly not anything that can be achieved over night despite the fact that the armed forces are showing patience that no other armed forces has done. The passion with which members of the armed forces go about their duty stationed in Mullaitivu from what was observed throughout the district is something that deserves more credit than they are currently getting. None of their actions are in any SOP and the manner they patiently deal with the civilians who ask for sewing machines, new homes, electricity and the like is far better than any public servant is able to achieve despite years of experience but one that the public servants need to emulate – for they need to play a greater role in terms of service delivery. Part of the issues in public sector service delivery is when officials function outside of their mandate committing errors in decision making, favoring friends, family or caste and not following the codes laid out for public servants.
Of course as onlookers our expectations of gratitude by these Tamil civilians towards the armed forces is nothing that can be faulted. These civilians were once either voluntarily or by force following LTTE orders or assisting LTTE terror activities. It is a factor the people are willing to forgive but find hard to forget. While LTTE has been eliminated these civilians themselves need to be aware that separatism of Sri Lanka is still alive and they need to play a greater role in terms of assurance that they will not be a party to any future separatist agendas.
The views expressed are the author’s own.