Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Sri Lanka: LTTE's one child from one family recruitment policy

By: Shanika Sriyananda
Republished for information and discussion only. This report does not necessarily reflect the views of Mike Hitchen Consulting

The reality of the battlefront - that the LTTE is losing the ground as well as fighters - is not conveyed to the civilians. They are now forced to listen to the Voice of Tigers, which only says that 'the Tigers retaliated to an offensive by the Sri Lankan security forces'. According to the girls, 'Eelanadu' the paper published by the LTTE is the other option for information. But they never report the fact that the army is in their final push to defeat the LTTE.

She walks in shivering fright. Her slender neck, which was once adorned with the small capsule stuffed with the deadly white powder, is now bare.

The very moment she realised the value of living, she threw it away. Getting ready to unfold her saga of lost childhood through an army translator, she still looks around suspiciously. She seems to be uncomfortable in the new outfit, which symbolises her transition to freedom from being a terrorist: she comes in tripping on her skirt which is too long for this small girl - one of the Prisoners of War (PoW).

The day her house was surrounded, Baskaran Subanjini, eldest of a family of four, had no option but to obey the orders to join the LTTE - the most ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. They snatched her away while she was begging and crying and her mother was cursing. That was the end of her carefree life. The cadres pushed her mother and also the seven-year-old sister, who were trying to prevent them from taking Subanjini away.

The LTTE, which is facing a severe shortage of fighters has started to levy a human tax - recruiting a girl or a boy for combat training to fight against the army.

It was last October 10, the day the LTTE had taken her to the Puwadeni Training Base in Kilinochchi. Over 52 children, who were abducted under this one member from one family to the LTTE' policy, too were housed in the same training base.

Later they had been transported to the Kalaimagal Training base at Anandapuram in Puthukuduiruppu for a month long combat training where they were trained to handle T56 and grenades.

She did not belong to the studious lot in the class, but Subanjini too had dreams about her future! Especially to have a decent life where she could help her mother who is the sole breadwinner to feed four mouths since her father abandoned them. "My mother worked hard to earn a living. I want to make her life comfortable one day. But...," she could not complete her thoughts as tears were streaming down.

Though the LTTE taught them how they would become heroines when dead after biting a cyanide to avoid becoming a POW, the persisting dream - to help her mother - influenced her to throw away the cyanide. Many young LTTE cadres including Subanjini saw the soldiers as devils as the LTTE had painted a wrong picture about soldiers... They thought that when they were taken into army custody, first they would be raped, tortured and then killed.

"The LTTE has created a devilish picture about the army soldiers among the children and they use schools to propagate this idea. So, according to what I have heard from my childhood, I never wanted to meet an army soldier and prayed that I would not meet any in my life. I hated them", says Subanjini who was thoroughly brain washed by the LTTE but later understood the reality.

But in the very next moment contrary to her misconception she thanked the soldiers of the 57 division for saving her life. "If they really wanted to kill us they could have easily bombed the bunker or shot us. But they did not! They gave us water, the few drops which were left for them", she recalls. The innocence of yet another teenager is emerging as Subanjini or 'Tamilnadi' her nom de guerrilla, talks freely while her fears are fading away. Next is soft spoken Rasalingam Karthika, a native of Udayanagar, Kilinochchi. Her eyes move around the hall in this highly secured Wanni Head Quarters of the Security Forces. Just to make her laugh, the translator says "Sirikki ... sirikki" (smile... smile).

'Thirunidi' that is her nom de guerrilla, tries to smile with me while looking up the ceiling to hide her tears.

Why did you join the LTTE?, I asked.

After a pin drop silence, she speaks. "I never wanted to join the LTTE but they abducted me. If I did not join the LTTE my two little brothers and sisters would die in hunger. The LTTE threatened to stop the food relief for my family", 18-year-old Karthika cried.

She says the day the LTTE tried to separate her from the family she had pleaded with them not to take her away. But without leaving a breathing space, the LTTE snatched away the girl on last April 24 before she said bid-adieu to her parents. That was the last day that she saw her family.

She was given a full combat training - handling of weapons and bombs - at the Puwadeni Training base until she was suddenly trucked to a forward defence line where the heavy fighting was going on.

Explaining about the training procedure, she says, it is compulsory for all new recruits - a child of 14-years-old or an adult of 50-year-old first to undergo a training on how to make a hand grenade. "First it is how to make bombs, then it is how to handle weapons like T 56 and finally to the battle front", she explains.

"What did you feel when you were in the FDL?"

"We were scared and remembered amma and appa. We wanted to run away and hide somewhere as we are too small to fight with the soldiers", they say.

These girls, who had seen blood, flesh and body parts everywhere grew up in a world of terror from their birth, need to be rehabilitated.

They who saw their classmates, who were abducted while studying at school or playing hide and seek with them were coming in sealed coffins and also witnessed how the LTTE was expanding the fences of the cemetery to bury more of their friends, need to undergo pshyco-therapy treatment to return to normalcy.

"Were you given lectures?"

"Yes. The LTTE taught us about Sinhalese and how they had treated us. We were taught that the Sinhalese want to wipe out Tamils and that is why the LTTE has to wage this war.

The lecturers also told us that all of us were born to die for a cause and it is our duty to sacrifice our lives to have a separate land for Tamils", Subanjini recalls.

Subanjini and Karthika and many of her friends who did not see a single Sinhalese in this decades long war, thought that the Sinhalese are blood-thirsty creatures.

Now they know miles away from the North, the Tamils and Sinhalese are living together sharing happiness and sorrow equally.

"If you are so scared, why did not you die by biting the cyanide or exploding the grenade like what your platoon leader did?"

"We want to live", the eyes of these two teenagers were glistening with hope for a better future.

These girls saw the rise and the fall of the LTTE. They say that earlier, villagers had faith in the LTTE and it was an honour for them to have an LTTE cadre in their family. People thought that the LTTE's sole objective was to end the sufferings of the Tamils.

But these girls will certainly unearth the reality - which had brought them nothing by the so-called sole representatives of Tamils other than death and destruction which pass on from generation to generation.

"The LTTE cannot get Eelam and it will find it difficult to raise its head again. Newly recruited cadres will abandon the LTTE. But those who are still fighting will remain with the outfit because their family members are living in LTTE controlled areas.

They are in fear that they will be punished or killed to take revenge. Only the middle aged experienced cadres will remain with the outfit until the end.", Subanjini says, adding that the families, whom the LTTE is now using as a human shield, are also remaining in Mullaitivu because of their children, whom the LTTE had recruited forcibly are still fighting in the battle fronts. She says that these parents would not flee outside Mullaitivu leaving their children.

The reality of the battle front - that the LTTE is losing the ground as well as fighters - is not conveyed to the civilians. They are now forced to listen to the Voice of Tigers, which only says that 'the Tigers retaliated to an offensive by the Sri Lankan security forces'. According to the girls, 'Eelanadu' the paper published by the LTTE is the other option for information. But they never report the fact that the army is in their final push to defeat the LTTE.

Grown-up amidst thunderous explosions of artillery and mortars from their birth until they were brought in as POWs, these girls yearn for a better future to patch up their lives.

Seeing and feeling that there is a world far better than the dream-land of their notorious master - Prabhakaran - the two teenagers want all of their colleagues and the young leaders to surrender to the army to save their lives.

"No need to be scared to the army. They are good and now we can prove that the impression the LTTE had given to us about these soldiers is wrong. They treated us nicely. They did not kill us or tortured us", Subanjini and Karthika say.

Subanjini says that while their cadres were getting killed one by one, the platoon leaders were asked by their leaders to hold the ground. "They do not care about us.

They do not want us to live. A platoon leader who is a senior cadre will be assigned to lead a fresh group of cadres. She will not allow the new cadres to surrender", she adds.

Recalling the nightmarish moment in the wee hours of that fateful day in which they have started a journey for freedom, these two former LTTE cadres say that they could not withdraw as the LTTE seniors wanted them to hold the bunker even while the soldiers had surrounded them from the four corners. But their leader 'Maduwanthi' who smelled that they were fighting a losing battle ends her life by exploding a grenade. "They do not care for us and want us to die. A leader operating from some kilo metres away from the front-line ordered us to bite the cyanide or blast the grenade to commit suicide. But we did not listen to him", says Karthika.

"Have you seen Prabhakaran?".

They look at each other and say "Ellai" (No). Let's leave Prabhakaran who is believed to be living in an under ground bunker and comes out very rarely.

They have not seen any of the other prominent leaders in the LTTE. The girls say that the leaders command the battle from far away. "The platoon leaders told us that Prabhakaran will not allow the army to capture his areas and the LTTE will not lose this battle as Prabhakaran will do something to recapture the land", Karthika says adding that it is impossible for the LTTE to fight with the army once their reserves - trained cadres and remaining weapons - are finished!

I was given an hour to interview them and I had to rush back from Vavuniya Security Forces Headquarters to Anuradhapura Airport to fly to Colombo. I ask the last question: what do you feel now and what do you think about your future?

Karthika, soft spoken 'black beauty', answered first: "I do not have any problem here but I am worried about my family. I am scared that the LTTE will take my two small brothers and the sister. I do not want them to die", she cannot conclude her answer as she starts crying again.

Subanjini, still having small scars of the grenade explosion, that blew the platoon leader, on her face, answered next: "I am ok, but I am too worried about my sisters and brothers. Four of the dead female cadres are from my village and when the LTTE hand over the bodies to the families my mother will come to know that something has happened to me. I know she will be very upset", Subanjini, who was talkative throughout and resembled a strong personality, too starts weeping.

She has a hope: to see her 'amma'. "I know that I cannot go there to see her. But if she knows I am here she will somehow come to see me. I just want her to know that I am alive and safe", she murmurs.

Time is running out and it is also time to say good bye to my two teenage friends, who saw Sinhalese as blood-thirsty enemies, a few days ago! We shake hands and feel the warmth of humanity and friendship. An unrealistic dream has divided the two friendly communities, bringing destruction and animosity.

Back at the Anuradhapura Airport, the Y-12 aircraft is ready to take off.

Five soldiers, in their twenties, whose legs blown off by the deadly Jonny mines still want to witness an end to the terror to justify the sacrifice they have made. They will soon be admitted to the Army Hospital, Colombo for emergency treatment.

"We suffered a lot from birth upto the present. We have bitter experiences. And our future lies with the government now". I remember the last few words uttered by Subanjini and Karthika before saying goodbye to me. It appears that desperation is fading away and hopes for life are emerging.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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