Rehabilitation of ex LTTE cadre, a success story

Only a nation that managed to end a war against ruthless terrorists would understand that the most challenging part is not the fighting, but navigating through the post war era. It is when the real war to stand on one’s own feet begins. It is the time when the search starts for solutions for the root causes of the calamity.

Infrastructure development and resettlement are cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming efforts yet changing the mindset of a fighter cadre and reintegrating him/her to society would be the hardest. Rehabilitation of those who fought for the terrorist organisation is obviously a crucial part in the process of rising from the debris.

Under the guidance of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Government was directed to recognise the importance of rehabilitating a cadre which belonged to the most dangerous and ruthless terrorist organisation in the world. President Rajapaksa’s accurate understanding became the giant pillar for the successful outcome of Sri Lanka’s rehabilitation process.

“When nearly 11,000 ex-LTTE cadre surrendered to the Army after May 19, 2009, with support from the leader of the country, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the rehabilitation process could be started immediately with a solid administrative structure,” said Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi.

Ex-combatants were immediately separated from the rest of the displaced persons and were transferred to makeshift centres for their own security until proper Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres (PARCs) were established. Twenty-four PARCs were developed at the initial stages and functioned separately for children, women and men. A statement and letter of consent were obtained from the surrendered ex–combatants to follow the rehabilitation program. A dedicated Competent Authority was appointed to attend to all matters relating to the rehabilitation of ex-combatants.

Conceptual framework

Under the direction of President Rajapaksa, experts in the field set goals within a conceptualised framework for the rehabilitation process with coordinated and integrated efforts towards a comprehensive action with clear directions and focus. Policies, the National Action Plan and legal framework to facilitate the set goals were soon established, ensuring that this process was not ad hoc. Special institutions were created to implement these policies under which the Bureau of the Commissioner General for Rehabilitation was set up under the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms to take the lead role together with other institutions and line ministries.

According to Brg. Hettiarachchi, all Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres were provided with sound security, and infrastructure facilities, giving consideration to hygiene, food and nutrition, health and psycho-social support including providing opportunities to make contacts with their family and friends and access to all UN agencies, therefore maintaining transparency.

At the rehabilitation centres they were no more ex-combatants, but rehabilitation beneficiaries; no more child soldiers, but children of Sri Lanka, explained Brgd. Hettiarachchi.

At the initial stages 594 boys and girls between 12 and 18 were among the surrendees. Of the adult youth, 3,658 were married and mostly men. Though the majority were Hindus, there were 814 Christians, three Muslims and six Buddhists.

“Rehabilitation was based on the ‘six plus one’ concept,” said Brgd. Hettiarachchi. Educational, vocational training, social and family integration, spiritual, psychological creative therapy and extra-curricular activities such as sports, dancing and music were the six inter-connected theories related to rehabilitation beneficiaries and the awareness program for the community.

At religious festivals

Every religious festival, be it Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, was conducted with the highest respect. It was then that the rehabilitation officers at the centres found out that many of their students hardly participated even in their own religious festivals and some never knew certain simple rituals or traditions of their religions.

The festivals created a whole new world for these youth. It was important to give them a good understanding of the value of the family. How to live in a family was a new concept for these young people as their lives were mostly cut off from their families at a very early stage of their lives. The situation was quite sensitive with those who fought as hard-core cadre,” explained Brgd. Hettiarachchi. Youth who had already chosen their lifetime partners were given in marriage with the consent of their parents or guardians. “These couples were settled in the ‘Peace Village’ of the rehabilitation centres. It was important to let them learn how to be in a family and the value of a family,” he explained.

The Peace Village was established in Vavuniya to cater to the reunification of married ex-combatants who were undergoing the rehabilitation process separately at different rehabilitation centres. Fifty-three couples who had the privilege of being the beneficiaries of the first mass marriage ceremony of Sri Lanka were housed in this village on June 13, 2010. Each family was given a plot of land for cultivation. While living under one roof as a family, these rehabilitees underwent rehabilitation, vocational and technical training programs at the centres. Parallel training was given to them on a vocation based on their preferences and talents with a certification of National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) levels.

“Married or unmarried, all were free to go home, visit their families whenever there was a necessity at their homefront like a parent falling sick or a special ceremony at home. The only concern was to make them complete their vocational training correctly,” Brgd. Hettiarachchi explained, adding that the centres were never run on military fashion unlike when these youth were with the terrorist organisation.

“It was during the rehabilitation process that they themselves understood the beautiful youth that was hidden inside them,” he added. Today, nearly 800 former cadre remain at the rehabilitation centres, completing their vocational training course. After graduating, they are free to select their life destination as productive and useful citizens to the country who would do their part for the national development of the country.

By Dhaneshi Yatawara

Courtesy -Sunday Observer