Peace and Its Discontents
The situation in the districts of both Batticaloa and Ampara are frightening and depressing. Any time spent with the local community there only confirms what we had mentioned in our report in June "that peace has passed by the east, leaving its people out. Batticaloa is in the thrall of the peace process, but there is no peacefulness; definitely not for the struggling and working families and people of Batticaloa" and Amparai. If anything, now times are far worse than in April when the Karuna faction split with the LTTE. At that time the LTTE system of taxation had stopped temporarily, approximately 3, 000 children had returned to their parents and there was hope that some positive changes may come. Attempts at resistance documented by some activists at the time have very little space now. Mothers have been systematically silenced, and the little resistance they still show condemned. Communities live in extraordinary fear now, Muslims and Tamil are divided because of the growing tension there, political killings continue unabated, extreme forms of taxation especially for the Muslims have resumed, and children are being recruited with little respite. The killings in the East is a daily occurrence, whereas in the south only a few of those instances are reported.
The stories that we narrate are of two children and their families who were released in April by the Karuna faction, who are but two among the 2-3,000 children estimated to have been released at that point. Both these boys are fifteen years old and have remained with their parents for six months. They were both recruited when they were 12 or 13 years of age. One when he was out playing in the neighbourhood, the other when he had been on his way to school. How have they passed their time in those last six month, after having been released? How have the Sri Lankan state and the myriad of International organizations that zoom past the areas in their large vehicles waving big flags paved the way for these children to be secure?
Both these children have been confined to their homes for most of the last six months. One of them attempted to attend a vocational training programme. He attended this programme for perhaps a month or two. Returning to school seemed impossible as he had missed so much, and schools, children and parents of other children were suspicious of these children. Perhaps he thought that through this special programme he would now have a chance of interacting with other children, learn some skills he could use to earn some money for his very poor family. Whatever his dreams may have been, they exist no longer. Two months after he started the programme two other children who were also 'returnees' were abducted on their way home by bus from the training programme. His parents immediately stopped him attending for fear of his being re-recruited. Such vocational training programmes have become means of monitoring children's movements for the LTTE. For girls this problem remains acute as their still shoulder length hair gives them away. Many of these girls who are in residential programmes where they have been offered some safety are learning skills such as needle work.
The other child has stayed at home for six months, locked in his room, without going out. He was abducted when he was twelve. His parents do not want to take that risk again.
Both these children have been asked to come back to the LTTE. On Friday, the 15th of October, the LTTE asked all the mothers and children of the returnee children and youth to report to its office in Akkaraipattu 8. Many of the mothers did not take their children along with them at that point whereas some even refused to attend. Despite intimidations, they show enormous courage. It is hard to imagine that they have energy to resist in a climate of daily cross killings, coercion, bullying by the LTTE that pays no heed to pleas of respecting human rights and child rights of Tamils and Muslims in the East. These mothers had been told to bring their children for a meeting on the 17th of October to the LTTE office. They had been warned that if they did not bring their children, they would be branded as partisan to the Karuna faction and would pay the consequences of such resistance. If any of them refused to bring his or her child or took that child away to a safer place in the south, their other children would suffer. Many children and mothers went on the 17th out of fear. Apparently a group of over 100 people had gathered at this meeting. One of the LTTE leaders had told them to forget about leaving the movement and to forget about staying at home. According to reports, parents had been weeping at the office, scared, not knowing how to let go of their children, not knowing how to resist. At the end of the day, letters had been given to the children and parents stating that the children must join soon when they are called upon. Unconfirmed reports say that UNICEF officials were present at the meeting. It may have stopped the LTTE from recruiting children on that same day.
The LTTE has in no way stopped or even reduced their recruitment drives in the East. We had heard that in the vicinities of the Batticaloa town area there was a temporary lull in recruitment. As one person told us "the two factions are too busy killing each other and so have no time to recruit children for the moment." This lull is obviously temporary in Batticaloa, it will start again soon.
Meanwhile in Akkaraipattu, Kalmune, Samanthurai, Kopalapuram, Trincomalee
recruitment drives continue unabated. What of the plans set in motion
when these children were released in April 2004?
We heard the following facts.
There are approximately 200 returnee children in the Akkaraipattu division hiding at their homes while the LTTE is pressurising these children to rejoin.
In Killinochchi there is increased recruitment in the last few months. In Mallumale close to Kiran in the Batticaloa district there has been an intense recruitment drive. Many of the uncleared areas see an increase in recruitment with families having no option but to give up their children to the LTTE.
In the town of Kopalapuram in Trincomalee alone, the LTTE have recruited 20 children recently. They are all fresh recruits. In one family they have recruited both brother and sister. This has been through screening of propaganda material in the kovil and intimidating parents and children.
In the area of Samanthuai which falls into the Ampara division, children and parents have been warned not to resist and to rejoin the movement before they are asked again.
We spoke to some children and asked them what they wanted to do. They wanted to stay at home with their mothers, to learn some skills and to try to earn some money.
One grandfather of the two young boys we spent some time with told us "my daughter will die if they take her son again. She spent so much money during the three years he was with the LTTE to try to find him. We never even got a chance to visit him. She was miserable during this time. Now she has him back, we would rather die than give him up again."
Such pressures on the whole family may make the under-aged returnee child feel that his staying with his family is a liability to all and that the only way to ease his family's burden is to rejoin the LTTE.
In Valathapitiya in the Ampara district we heard that there were 20 under-aged returnee children of whom 6 are young girls. They have been told to come back, they have no prospects such as going to school, obtaining a job and extreme poverty at home has made them think that re-joining is the only choice open to them.
There are very few places in Sri Lanka that can accommodate these children. Accommodating them needs to be accompanied with sufficient measures of security for these children. One local NGO leader told us that whatever action they could take to reintegrate these children would be totally disrupted by the intervention of the "boys."
Very few children have recourse to the numerous INGO and other organizations working there. These institutions often repeat that the security of these children is not their mandate. Only Unicef seems to have a mandate to look into the issue of protecting under-aged children. They have thus far not done what it takes to guarantee the security of these children. Their agreement with the TRO has made a mockery of child safety and rights. Many people fear that any information given to the Unicef will only help the LTTE keep better track of the returnee children.
The government and human rights organizations have not reacted or organized themselves sufficiently to help these children. Six months have passed since these children have returned home. Yet, very little has been done. What has been done is insufficient and larger better organized efforts need to be made.
The killings in the East continue unabated. The cross-fires between the two LTTE factions have increased the climate of fear to unbearable levels. Security of families is an important issue and children feel doubly vulnerable in such a climate. If there are no precautions to control and stop such cross fires, then relations between people will deteriorate to even lower levels. As of now, only LTTE and the Karuna faction are armed and involved in decimating each other. Very soon, Muslims frustrated with attacks upon them by the LTTE and their position as a discriminated group in the East will only lead to further violence and arming of Muslim communities.
On the 14th of October 2004 at 7 pm, unknown persons had arrived at the house of Anandan Sudharshan in Valaichchenai. He is said to be an ex-LTTEer. They had asked his wife to call him. When he had come forward to meet these people, one of them had shot him in the stomach. He had managed to run out of the back of house to the police station. The police had eventually brought him to the Batticaloa Hospital. There is very little security offered to him, and he will be a target of such shootings again.
On the 22nd of September the Mahaweli Authority is said to have planned to distribute land to people in Vaharei. The DS of the area is said to have compiled a list of people to whom these plots of land is to be given. Many people were unhappy with the nature of this list which resulted in cross-firing at that point.
In the first week of October LTTE cadre Jude was shot down by a Karuna cadre. The STF had given chase to the assassin and had shot him down. That night LTTE is said to have set fire to this Karuna cader's house.
On the night of the 19th of October former TNA MP Kingly Rajanayagam was shot dead by armed gunmen in Batticaloa.
An organization like the LTTE that cannot accept dissent will only increase killings and those factional clashes will worsen human insecurity in the region.
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