UNLIKE ITS NAMESAKE IN LONDON THE TIMES OF INDIA WRITES ABOUT THE DEEPLY PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRED CHILD RECRUITS OF THE TAMIL TIGERS WHO ARE BEING REHABILITATED AT AMBEPUSSA
Posted on June 24th, 2009

By Walter Jayawardhana

The Times of India newspaper featured many young Tamil youngsters , who were taken , to be child soldiers “screaming and kicking” against their will both during the time when the recruiters were untouched during a Norway brokered ceasefire treaty in Sri Lanka and during the final days of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during March 2009 when they won the sympathy of the European nations, led by the British , who put up an unprecedented diplomatic campaign to save the LTTE leader and his close associates, who were making a desperate attempt in vain to save their skins with last minute child recruitment.

 As the Times of India truly depicts the produced results of the recruitment, during both times, are cruel and pathetic: a generation of Tamil youth who were deeply injured psychologically. But in contrast, obviously in an attempt to whitewash Prabhakaran and his child recruiters in this most heinous war crime the Times published in London said the LTTE leader inspired “girls, boys (some as young as 12) and young men and women to die for the cause.” (May 26 2009)

 But the Times of India news feature confirms the volumes and volumes written by the United Nations Children’s Fund and other agencies that these inspired 12 year olds were none other than children kidnapped from schools, refugee camps, temples , playgrounds, and homes against their and their parent’s will.

 An older child in her teens told the Indian reporter that younger recruits “dragged” by the Tigers were crying and begging her to take them home making her feel helpless. The journalist met the former child recruits at Ambepussa , where the government was trying to rehabilitate them to lead a normal life.

 Andy Brooks , a child protection chief of the UNICEF based in Colombo , told the Times of India reporter, that the Sri Lanka government was doing its best for these children while recommending psychiatrist treatment for the children.

 The following is the full text of the story the Times of India published:-

 Kumudha absent-mindedly fiddles with her left forefinger. Then, looking embarrassed, she hurriedly tucks it into the folds of her skirt. She often forgets that she has no forefinger. Only a stub.

The finger was sliced off by a sniper’s bullet while she was guarding an LTTE bunker in Konavil village in Kilinochchi in 2008. Heavy fighting had broken out as the Sri Lankan army pushed ahead in the north. This was just a couple of months after bullets pierced her right thigh and she was hospitalized.

In 2004, in the midst of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, the LTTE was on a recruitment spree. Kumudha, barely 20 and all set toget married, was among the 100-odd young men and women and children hustled along a jungle trail from Amparai to Valaichenai in Batticaloa district in the eastern province. For nearly five years, she was forced to fight for the LTTE until she finally managed to flee in early 2009 from Visuvamadu.

On March 16, 2009, Rani (name changed), 17 years, was dragged from her house in Puthukudiyiruppu, kicking and screaming. She hugged her mother tight, shouting at the LTTE cadres to leave her alone. Despite her pleas, Rani was carried away to Valaignarmadam, north of Mullivaikkal. For five days, the girl, along with others aged between 12 and 17, was trained in handling rifles and grenades.

“In the camp, the young children would cry, begging me to take them home. I felt helpless,” says Rani. For five days, she stayed in the Tiger camp and finally decided to make a run for it. LTTE cadres opened fire at her. “Bullets grazed my shoulder,” she says. Injured, she managed to reach her home and her mother.

There is no smile on her face now, just a feeling of resignation. “I want to be with my mother,” she says.

“There are several such sad stories. But most children always have a smile on their faces,” says commissioner-general for rehabilitation Suhada Gamalath, who is overseeing a rehabilitation centre in Ambepussa, an army base and a scenic tourist resort, 60km north of Colombo. While parents of many children have been traced, officials are searching for the others.

A few months ago, as many young combatants poured into army camps in the north and were sent to prisons, a Kilinochchi court directed that they be put through a re-indoctrination and rehabilitation programme, which is now funded by UNICEF.

Fed on a ‘hate-Sinhalese’ propaganda for years, many of the young inmates initially resisted the urge to flee from the camp, surrounded by gun-toting soldiers. But “I can see a difference in them now,” says Prasanna Mahagamage, who is teaching them to dance as part of group therapy, an initiative of the Sri Lanka Children’s and Youth Theatre Organisation.

Every Sunday, the girls and boys learn to move gracefully to contemporary music. “It is difficult to heal their scars with just this. But it helps to calm the mind and I believe there is a sense of rhythm and music in everyone,” he says.

While cooking lessons and vocational classes like sewing, masonry and computer software constitute the main agenda, the children lackcounselling, which is important for weaning them away from the ill-effects of the LTTE’s rather powerful `motivational’ training.

Admits Dr Thilak Jayawardhana, of the local Warakapola hospital, who has been attempting to counsel the children: “Having to use mediators to communicate with them has been frustrating. They know only Tamil and we don’t know the language.” It was important for the children to be among their loved ones, he told TOI.

“We strongly advocate psychiatric counselling for these children,” says Andy Brooks, the Colombo-based chief of child protection, UNICEF, pointing out that the government was doing its best to ensure that the children’s return to society was smooth.

While the court ordered that the children be permitted to leave after a year, a review every three months could mean earlier release, he adds.

But, the emotional scars left by the war could take much longer to heal, says Dr Jayawardhana.

One Response to “UNLIKE ITS NAMESAKE IN LONDON THE TIMES OF INDIA WRITES ABOUT THE DEEPLY PSYCHOLOGICALLY SCARRED CHILD RECRUITS OF THE TAMIL TIGERS WHO ARE BEING REHABILITATED AT AMBEPUSSA”

  1. orpheusperera Says:

    Sometime back, I did write a letter to UNICEF about this matter. Many years ago, when I show the picture of Mrs. Balasingham, hanging Cyanide capsules around the necks of young children, I felt she should be charged for child abuse. But I did not have access to anything like Lankaweb at that time.
    Whether these youngsters join the terrorist army as volunteers or they were dragged by force is immaterial.

    Also in 1986 my son’s first birthday was celebrated in an orphanage, run by a Buddhist monk(the brother of GA of Moragas wewa in NE) in a small temple Pagoda. Those children were traumatised when the army found them hiding in the bushland, while their parents were butchered by LTTE at the middle of the night. Most probably this massacre was the idea of LTTE leaders abroad than V. Prabakaran himself, to do a ethnic cleansing of Singhalese and Muslims from the East and make Singhalese people do the same in the South.
    Since LTTE terrorist army and its chief is out, I believe that we should be able to bring Mrs. Balasingham and the actual LTTE terrorist leaders(who now seek an Elam in Exile) to trial without delay. I can remember pointing this, as a job for NGO Sri Lanka, in one of my letters to Lankaweb. I could not find the email address of the good Samaritan Kumar Rupasinghe, who is been paid much more than a professional with a PhD or a doctor who saves lives.

    Orpheus Perera

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