BUREAU OF THE COMMISSIONER GENERAL OF REHABILITATION
"MINISTRY OF PRISON REFORMS,REHABILITATION, RESETTLEMENT AND HINDU RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS"

A Day of Fun and Joy

It was a rare opportunity for those ex-Tigers who have been waging a fierce battle for more than 30 years to participate in a Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebration. This New Year celebration was held in Vavuniya last Thursday (19).

For the first time they had the opportunity to mingle with scores of people from the South and experience the taste of the Southern culture that they had missed in their lives.

The Vavuniya Urban Council (UC) grounds was decorated to cater to the rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres who came along with their families to participate in the Avurudu festival organized by the Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms Ministry.

It was a day of fun, a day of reconciliation, a day of joy and a day of bonding with people of other provinces and districts with diverse cultures and practices.

Trained vocations

Rehabilitation and prisons reform Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera was instrumental in rehabilitating these ex combatants and guiding them through the process of adjusting to civilian life. They have been trained at four rehabilitation centres in carpentry and masonry with the aim of providing them a source of livelihood once they enter society.

Tug of war, climbing the grease poll, pillow fighting and many other traditional New Year games were organized while everyone participated with much enthusiasm. Over 700 rehabilitated ex-combatants and their families from the Polonnaruwa and Vavuniya camps participated in the event.

The government had initiated many programmes as part of the post war reconciliation process, and to bridge the gap between both Sinhala and Tamil communities. These rehabilitated cadres were earlier taken to the hill country and the South as part of the programme. Many of them expressed that it was the first time they had seen the other part of the country, and that it was amazing to see the development taking place around the country.

Expressing her views on this historic occasion Vavuniya Government Agent (GA) P.S.M. Charles told Ceylon Today it was a good start for the reconciliation and reintegration process of this country. The Sinhala and Tamil community was separated for over 30 years due to the war, and this is an initial step taken by the Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister to heal those wounds of the past. I have spoken to these people and they are happy that they have the opportunity to join with their families and celebrate the New Year. They also made a request from the minister to release the remaining rehabilitants very soon, and the minister too agreed whole heartedly, she said.

Charles also stated that the minister had also pledged to give them loans and grants to rebuild their lives that were shattered due to the conflict. I have also been visiting some of the rehabilitants who were released earlier, and they are living happily with their families for the first time. Some of them had cultivated their lands in the last season and they have also been granted permanent housing by the government. They told me that their wells and other infrastructure facilities have also been restored for them by the government and that they are very happy. The reconcillation process has commenced and the people are delighted that they can finally live in peace as one nation, she said.

She said that all misconceptions that existed in the minds of the Tamil people regarding the security forces and the Sinhala people have now been rectified. They have had the opportunity to work together while in the camps and now they have come to understand each other. They have understood that although the security personnel don their uniforms, their minds are with the civil society.Two communities that were forced to fight each other have now been joined together by this initiative, and it is a very good sign for the future of this country, the GA said.

Ex-rebel s confession

Dharmasivam Antony Newton was an ex-LTTE cadre attached to the intelligence wing of the rebel organization who has undergone the rehabilitation process and now for the first time lives a normal life with his wife and three children, in the Madhu area.

He is currently following a diploma course in counselling and is eager to get his life back on track. I joined the rebel organization willingly in 1999 and was attached to the intelligence wing. We were brain washed to believe in the theories of the terrorists back then. I was only 16 years when my brother and I both were enlisted. My brother was attached to the Black Tiger outfit and he was later killed in the Galle harbour attack. Subsequent to a six month training period I was working with them. During that period I could only visit my family once a month and it was very difficult, he said.

However now after the reintegration process, we have come to understand that the Sinhalese are not our enemies, and now we have absolutely no issue with them. There are however some elements that are trying to destroy the peace that we have all yearned for so long and create unnecessary issues, but we have understood the real situation now. We are very grateful to the president and the rehabilitation and prison reforms minister as well as the director general of rehabilitation. During my rehabilitation period, we were taken on a trip to the South, which we did not have the privilege of seeing earlier. The development taking place in the country is tremendous, and the harbour in the South was such an unbelievable sight. The development taking place in our part of the country too is much appreciated. It is my belief that we must all now discard all communal differences and join hands as one nation, he added.

Newton added that there are some groups who are attempting to incite troubles again, but he said they are totally opposed to the idea of going through the past traumatic period again. There can never be another war in this country, as we know the suffering that we had to endure. All these people who are living luxurious lives abroad are attempting to speak on our behalf, but they are not the ones who underwent the hardships of the past. They are simply attempting to make more money by selling our souls. No matter what the international community says, we know what the President has done for us. I plead with all parties concerned, to forget the traumatic past and unite in building a united Sri Lanka, where we can all live in peace and harmony, he said.

New experience

Speaking to Ceylon Today Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera, said there are around 675 more rehabilitants to be released. We have taken these rehabilitants to various parts of the country, so that they too can experience the diversity of this country, and for most of them it was a first time experience. They really enjoyed the experience, as some had not even experienced the climatic differences of the various areas. They confessed that they had been restricted by the terrorists and not allowed to experience or see the rest of the country. However, what I wanted to make them understand is that we as people of the South love them. I want to create an atmosphere of love and understanding, added the minister.

Gajadheera further said it is an achievement and evidence that the rehabilitation process is successful as none of the rehabilitated people had engaged in any unlawful act after they were released. These rehabilitants have been leading decent lives, and none of them have ever been reported to have broken the law subsequent to their reintegration. Even the President is pleased with the progress we have made, he said.

Loan facilities

The minister also added that around 2000 beneficiaries have been selected for the loan scheme to assist them in self employment ventures. These loans are to be given to them on a 10 year repayment plan, where they will also be given a grace period of one year in which they are only required to pay the interest. There are some who have worked in the LTTE medical corps, and they are interested in starting up pharmacies, he added.

Most of the countries that are talking so much about human rights have not done an atom of what we have done for these people. Therefore these countries don’t need to tell us how to respect human rights in our country. Recently a group of representatives from the Tamil Diaspora visited the country, but none of them were even able to speak the language. Is it possible for these people to fight for the rights of the Tamils in Sri Lanka? All they want is to disrupt the progress we have made in reconciliation efforts. What they are interested in is to sow the seeds of distrust and hatred once again, and create disharmony, as their survival depends on it. These so called representatives of the Tamil people are not interested in providing a better life for these poor people. When we see these people now, full of life and so happy, this is a reward for us the minister said.

Brainwashed

Another youth undergoing the reintegration process is Ramalingam Kumar who had joined the terrorist outfit in 2006 after his parents were killed. I am not sure how they died but the terrorists brainwashed me into thinking that the security forces had killed them and that was the reason I was recruited. I have no one else now, and although I was a bit suspicious of the government forces at the beginning, I am now convinced that all the hatred we had was misjudged. I used to think that the security forces are our enemies.

I have killed many during my period in the LTTE, but now I wholeheartedly regret. Today the President and the others who have met me are like my family members. I ask the government to assist us in finding employment. We have travelled on the wrong path, and now we have been guided onto the correct path. I call upon all my brothers and sisters to live in peace as people of one country, Kumar said.

Deadline for reintegration

Speaking to Ceylon Today Director General of Rehabilitation Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi, said the remaining rehabilitants are expected to be reintegrated into society by February next year.

We have certain committees appointed in every district for them to visit, if they need assistance, even after they are released. We do not abandon them after their stint with us is over and we are with them constantly assisting them in every aspect. We have found that on occasions when they have gone to public places to get their work done, they have been sidelined. In these instances the members of these committees have intervened and helped them out. We must create in the minds of the people a sense of acceptance. These rehabilitants are in their 20’s and 30’s are good people who possess good qualities. It is our duty to give them a chance to rebuild their lives and get back into society. We must give them a chance to prove themselves, he said.

By Camelia Nathaniel

(Courtesy - Ceylon Today)