From Rebellion to Reintegration and Usefulness

Despite all accusations thrown by some segments of the international community and other forces against Sri Lanka, rehabilitation of ex-Tigers of the now defunct LTTE is undoubtedly Sri Lanka’s success story as there are no major crimes reported to show the involvement of ex-Tigers since 2009, said the chief of the Rehabilitation of ex-cadres.

It is no easy task for the authorities to turn the fighters of one of the most ruthless outfits into non-violent persons. With the war against the LTTE coming to an end in May 2009, nearly 12,000 ex-Tigers surrendered to the military.

But, within three-years of the rehabilitation process, which gave them self-respect, and taught them to value life and vocational training to enable them to stand on their own feet, over 11,000 ex-LTTErs are now back with their families.

However, in an interview with Daily News, the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Darshana Hettiarachchi, while explaining the success of rehabilitating ex-Tigers, lamented the lack of financial assistance from the Tamil Diaspora to provide better post rehabilitation care, for them to be economically sound.

He said that those youths were talented and they needed a helping hand to start their own livelihoods and also to continue education, which many of them were denied due to LTTE’s forced recruitment.

“The government has implemented several programmes to help them but it is not enough. I personally think it is time for the Tamils who live abroad to invest in a meaningful way to make their future better”, he said.

The Chief of the Rehabilitation Authority also said that the Tamil diaspora could play a vital role in rebuilding their lives, but unfortunately, nothing significant is coming from them in the healing process, including in rebuilding the nation and rehabilitation of ex-LTTE cadres.

According to Brig. Hettiarachchi there are less than 500 ex-LTTE cadres, who were referred by the courts, undergoing rehabilitation at the moment. He said they would be in the rehabilitation process for a year and declined to give a specific time frame to release them all.

Excerpts of interview:

Q: Once you complete rehabilitating all the ex-LTTE cadres, what would be your task?

A: Nearly 11,000 ex-LTTErs are reunited with their families. They live peaceful lives. But our task will not end there. We have already designed a monitoring system to evaluate their post-rehabilitation process, to restore their livelihood and explore employment opportunities for them. The motive is to ensure that they lead normal lives after the reintegration and also to get their contribution towards the country’s development.

Q: There were some crimes that were committed by the released ex-cadres. What are your comments about the success of the rehabilitation process?

A: As I said before, there are 11,000 ex-cadres back with their families. Some tried to tarnish the outcome of this success story by highlighting these incidents. We don’t deny their involvement in a few incidents. But, when we take it in numbers these incidents are negligible as there are only a handful of them engaged in minor crimes like theft. They are reported in the East. But, thousands of others are now leading very peaceful lives with their families. There are no other major incidents to show their involvement for the last three-years. Who can say that is not a success story? I am confident that no force with vested interests or hidden agendas can mislead them to take up arms again as they want to live peacefully and also rebuild their lives. Sri Lanka’s story of rehabilitation of ex-terrorists would be the best model for other countries which face similar conflicts.

Q: According to your assessment, what were the major factors that contributed to successful rehabilitation?

A: Yes, it is the well planned methods that we used in the process, in which we had concentrated on some vital aspects like to give them facilities for meditation, sports, educational and vocational training. Once they complete the rehabilitation process based on six components, they are mentally and physically strong to select vocational training of their choice. While educating them on theoretical aspects, they will be motivated to mingle with society, to be kind to people and to respect and accommodate ideas of other people. We had to hold special counselling programmes for them mainly to change their mindsets and ideology, which had been inflicted by the LTTE to brainwash them for its cause. What we taught them was the value of love, respect and peace instead of taking revenge. We moulded thousands of youths train to kill others and themselves to be messengers of peace.

Q: Though they are back in society as free citizens, they struggle to earn a living. What is the livelihood restoration support offered to them?

A: We are doing a lot, formally and informally through our personal contacts to find them job opportunities. The government has initiated some loan schemes to help them to start self-employment projects. This programme will be introduced by the end of next month. Then we will start giving them loans. We have plans to introduce several programmes to assist them in income generation, but we need the support of the public as the government alone can’t shoulder the task. This is one area that the Tamil diaspora can come into play. They have a huge responsibility to help these misguided youths to correct their lives. As I said earlier, a loan scheme was introduced exclusively for the ex- LTTErs who have reintegrated and aspired to start a business on their own.

The government has already allocated Rs. 300 million to grant loans with a maximum of Rs. 250,000 at only four percent interest. They will be given a special pay back period of four years to pay the first installment.

Another step is exploring foreign employment opportunities for them. We have already negotiated with the Foreign Employment Bureau to explore employment opportunities, especially in the Middle East and South Korea. Under another new project, they will be facilitated to purchase three-wheelers without a down payment. It is now at discussion stages. Here, while earning, they can re-pay the installments.

Q: They are given vocational training during their stay at the rehabilitation centres. Do you think they will have job opportunities in the relevant sectors?

A: These youths are given the option to select the vocational training that they are interested in. Once they complete the training, they are awarded the National Vocational Qualification Level I, II and III certificates, which are well-recognised locally and internationally according to their performances.

Even if they want to find jobs abroad, they will easily get employment opportunities as they have completed these courses. We have given maximum opportunities to enhance their capabilities and to find suitable jobs to suit their talent through the vocational training they received under the rehabilitation process. Many earn a living from which they learnt during the rehabilitation process. At the moment discussions are going on with the construction firms especially with the firms involved in constructing 50,000 houses in the North and East to employ these youths as construction workers. They have talents in these newly learnt fields and most of them are doing well.

Q: There are forces which try to destabilize the prevailing peaceful situation. How confident are you that there is no possibility to tap these ex-LTTE cadres, who are back in society, to take up arms?

A: The government is fully confident that over 90 percent of these youths will not allow any force to mislead them as they have now realized they can’t achieve anything through violence. They value peaceful lives with their families, educating their children and laying foundations for the future of their children than fighting for a separate land for them. The efforts to influence them to take up arms will be futile as these youths are aware that they were ‘used’ by the LTTE and its supporters for their own agendas.

These youths had experienced the bitterness of one of the world’s deadly battles and now they want their children to live in a terror free world. They don’t want their children to be grabbed by terrorists like the way they were recruited by the LTTE. Basically they want their children to see the world outside.

On the other hand, in the absence of LTTE’s terror, they know there are many opportunities for them to have a better future. The government is confident that the Tamil diaspora or any other force attempting to drag them or mislead them would be futile. We have well-designed counselling programmes where they are given instructions to change their mindset. During these programmes we help them to inculcate human qualities in them. Counselling has brought about an impact on their lives. We are confident that they will think twice before they take a decision to go against people.

Q: These youths missed the link with soldiers for nearly 30 years but the rehabilitation of ex-cadres was mainly handled by soldiers. How effective was this to change their image of a soldier?

A: The Security Forces are engaged in handling rehabilitation in all the centres. The officers are selected and given counselling programmes to facilitate them to handle issues effectively prior to their appointments. Both soldiers and the ex-cadres, are in the prime of their youth, know their pulses better. This worked well in rehabilitation. These youths, who were trained to kill and live in terror, are more disciplined now as they are in touch with a disciplined and well trained soldiers. It is evident from their physical appearance.

This change is significant. Today, these officers, whom they thought as ‘evils’ have become best friends of the rehabilitated youth. They maintain a good rapport with these officers, even after their release. We all get calls from them, who just want to say ‘hello’ to us.

Q: To what extent would the familiarization tours to the South help to change their minds?

A: Over 90 percent of these youths were born during the LTTE control and missed the opportunity to interact with the Southerners. They only believed in the wrong picture painted in their minds by the LTTE about the Sinhalese and the Security Forces. The LTTE’s propaganda made these youth revengeful and thought Sinhalese grab their land to make Sinhala colonies. Therefore, they were motivated to fight against the military to protect their land. But, when they met people from the South and experienced their warmth, hospitality and help, they were fully convinced.

The main intention of arranging these trips was to revamp the interaction between them. On the other hand, they also can see the development taking place in the South in par with their areas. Then they will realize there is equality in treating all the communities in the country.

Yes, these trips to the South have made a great impact on their lives, to change their attitude.

Q: Though they have reintegrated into society as disciplined youth, their own people are reluctant to accept them due to their past records. Isn’t it the responsibility of the Rehabilitation Authority to create a safe environment for them?

A: Yes, our responsibility doesn’t end after reintegration. We conduct awareness programmes for villagers, religious dignitaries in the North and the East to welcome them back to their villages. We tell them about the importance of accommodating them back into the society by forgiving them as they have been misled by the LTTE.

We have received many complaints in this regards and in parallel to the rehabilitation, we conducted these awareness programmes. This was a serious issue as these youth were controlling them at one time. They were recruiting people and killing their loved ones. Still they hate them and the villagers who are resettled don’t want them to be in their villages any more. To make the environment safe for rehabilitated youths when they are integrated into the society, this system has been effective and most of the rehabilitated ex-cadre are leading normal lives in their areas today.

(Courtesy - Daily News)