By N Manoharan
Proper reintegration of former militants back into mainstream society is one of the vital components of rebuilding post-conflict societies. In the Sri Lankan case, it is all the more important given the character of the LTTE, a secretive, ruthless and uncompromising militant group.
Immediately after the end of ‘Eelam War IV’ and in due course of time, the total surrendered/identified LTTE cadres went up to 11,696. They were divided by the Sri Lankan Attorney General’s Department into three categories: Hardcore, non-combatants, and those who were forcefully recruited, who were mostly children. Separate “rehabilitation centres” were set up – 24 in all – in Jaffna, Batticaloa and Vavuniya. The number has now come down to nine. The main aim for separation was to extract maximum information on the LTTE remnants, their ‘sleeper cells’, future plans of revival, and hidden ammunitions. There are separate “welfare centres” for child soldiers, who are reportedly well taken care of. Costing over $23 million, the rehabilitation process that commenced in August 2009 comprised psychological and creative assistance, education, vocational training (in areas such as information technology, sewing, plumbing, electric work, carpentry, mason work, welding, metal work etc) spiritual, religious and cultural empowerment, sports and socialization. Support for the programme has come from Japan, US, India, EU, sections of Sri Lankan diaspora and also from private companies based in Sri Lanka like Aitken Spence, Brandix, Ceylon Tobacco, Dilmah, Hayleys, John Keells, MAS Holdings, Unilever and Ajitha de Zoysa.
While two latter categories of ex-Tigers (non-combatants and child soldiers) were released after rehabilitation, those identified as “hardcore” (about 700 cadres) are expected to undergo legal proceedings. In the initial stages, there were human rights abuses in the rehabilitation process especially of the “hardcore” category, but this mellowed down later. No distinction was made between leaders and ordinary cadres in this regard. Some of the important LTTE leaders who are presently in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army include Yogaratnam (former spokesman of the LTTE), Lawrence Tilagar (a former spokesman of the LTTE, a one time head of the LTTE office in Paris and later in charge of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization), Thangan (former deputy political wing leader), Ilamparithi (former head of the political wing, Jaffna district), Elilan (former Trincomalee political wing leader), Papa (former head of the LTTE sports division), Puvannan (former head of the administrative division of the LTTE), Gnanam (deputy international head) and Tamilini (head of the women’s political wing). Some of them are now working with Sri Lankan Military Intelligence in tackling the internal and external networks of the LTTE.
As of March 2011, about 6000 former LTTE cadres were released and reintegrated. Many of them were provided with education and employment, although the stigma associated with former Tigers remains. The government’s strategy of releasing them with much media hype could be avoided to reuce the stigma factor which occurs due to wide publicity and dissemination of their identities. Due to their past activities, the physical security of former Tigers also should be ensured. There is also the fear of rehabilitated cadres being under the watchful eyes of security forces and chances of getting detained anytime. The government can consider periodic orientation of these ex-militants just to make sure that they do not slip away from the right path in the long run. The government has ruled out recruiting them into all three armed forces: The army, army, and air force. However, in the east, some Tamils who were not associated with the LTTE have been recruited as police constables. The government intends to follow this in the north as well. The child soldiers, although are well looked after, with provisions for education, vocational training and visits by relatives, access to independent international agencies like Save the Child and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are denied. Though rehabilitation seems to be taking place as per the ‘National Action Plan for the Re-integration of Ex-combatants’, the exact nature of the rehabilitation process is not clear due to an absence of any external monitoring. The government could be more transparent in this regard. If proper attention is paid to this aspect of the problem, there are chances that they may resort to criminal or militant activities for their livelihood. If the reintegration programme of the Sri Lankan government is deemed attractive, the dispersed Tigers may surface to join the mainstream. Providing alternative livelihood opportunities to those who have already surrendered will go a long way in convincing those at large. If the post-conflict environment is conducive for decent living, the chances of ex-militants picking up arms once again are remote.
Senior Fellow, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS)
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