Monday, November 30, 2009

Sri Lanka: Child soldiers free from the battlefield, into the propaganda war

Why do I get the feeling that these children are yet again being used?

The latest fashion of the town has reached them. Instead of deadly cyanide vials and 'dog tags', ragged blood stained Tiger uniforms and rubber slippers boys wear silver chains, bracelets, denims, figure hugging T-shirts and sandles decorate them.

Girls with short hair, have started growing hair which was forcibly cut by the LTTE. They wear colourful short skirts with matching blouses and glittering jewellery.

They have nail polish and different kinds of perfumes too. Just four kilometres away from the Vavuniya town, the children who shivering in fear and were trained to fight, kill and die by the LTTE, are learning to live.

They, who guarded and fought in the forward defence lines from dawn to dust few months back, swear together everyday that they would not take up arms or join a terrorist group in future.

There were a dozen of visitors - elderly men and women - undergoing checking before entering the premises of the 'Child Protection and Rehabilitation Centre' at Poonthottam. They are the kith and kin of the LTTE's former child soldiers.

The gates opened. It was time of their assembly where each child is given a chance to express their views about life. Basically to express motivation and courageous thoughts

Major General Daya Ratnayake, the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation said that these children were under a well- designed rehabilitation process with education and vocational training.

In the former Co-operative Training College, where over 296 under-aged former child soldiers are housed, all spend the day according to a time table. From 5.30 in the morning to 10. 15 pm until the lights are turned off, they study, play, doing gardening and following vocational training on various subjects like house wiring, beauty culture, screen printing, carpentry, masonry.

John Kumanson (16) wants to pursue a career as a carpenter. His words got shivering as he recalled his life under the LTTE. John is a happy kid today but fight to erased off how the LTTE had killed his father before his own eyes.

The eyes of an innocent looking timid boy became sharp. Tears were to jumped out.

Though he is swear to convert to a harmless, the anger is brewing to find out his father's killers. "I know one LTTE police man is in the other rehabilitation camps. When I go home I will find him", his voice became strong.

Major Nimal Weerasekara, the Centre OIC said that at the beginning he and his staff had a tough time to convert the children to normal. "Most of these children were in trans-like stage.

They started shouting at nights and tried to run away. Some were unconscious", he said.

The horrific incidents that unfolded before their eyes had shook their lives leaving permanent scars with them.

Major Weerasekara had to hold a religious sessions with assistance of the Hindu priest of the Pillar Kovil to get rid of their nightmare and fears. They were also directed to two consultant psychiatrists of the Vavuniya hospital and were given lecturer on motivation.

"But sometimes it is so difficult to brain wash their bitter memories", he said.

John is one such boy who still wants to get the revenge of his father's killers.

During last April, the LTTE which were badly affected with poor manpower started snatching children whom can just hold a gun.

The terrorists rounded up Puthumathalan, full of tents where displaced people were living.

His parents got the news and they hid him in the tent house. There were 40 terrorists and they tried to take John while his family was crying and pleading to drop him.

"No. You cannot take my son", John said that his father's last few words in his last battle with the Tigers still echoed in his head.

The entire neighbourhood was shocked and the Tigers opened fire. They first shot John's father who fought with the Tigers. They dragged the boy and threw him into the van and ran over his father's body, which was still alive.

"They took me while my 'Appa' was breathing his last", John could not hold his tears. True... how a small kid forget that fateful moment? How he can be a normal kid unless a miracle happens?

But according to Maj. Weerasekara, they are trying their maximum to rehabilitate these children. Physical training in the morning and evening is a method that adopted to help them to forget these bitter memories.

The children are undergoing vocational training for six months and will be given a recognised certificate to facilitate them to get employment. Some private sector institutions have come forward to offer them jobs.

The centre spans for five acres have a common garden where the children grow plants together. Each one has to engage in gardening as this will help them to nature love. John, Priya and their friends - the child soldiers - who were just survived with 'soru' (rice and dhal boiled together) now eat meals that gives to soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army.

"These boys and girls were displaced several times and did not have proper shelter. The LTTE had chased them all the time. They lived under trees. Now they have freedom. Most of them like to study or follow vocational training courses", Maj. Weerasekara said.

He said that wife of the President of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress V. Kilasapathi was amazed to see the freedom and facilities given to these children. She has said that they never expected the Army to treat Tamil children, especially the former child soldiers, in this manner. These former child solders were thoroughly brained washed and taught to kill the Sinhalese and their Army. But today they learn humanity, love and kindness under the wings of same people that the LTTE showed them as devils.

The soldiers have become their parents and best of friends who teach them good and bad.

Source: Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order - Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. Courtesy : Sunday Observer

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