They have come a long way

Three years ago, this was a day they wouldn’t have been able to envisage even in their wildest dreams. But last Friday, wedding bells rang for two rehabilitated ex-LTTE cadres, ushering in a brand new chapter of life and love and happy prospects.

Siththampalam Priyatharshani and Suntharalingam Sutharshan from Udayarkattu, in Mullaitivu, both ex-LTTE combatants who have completed the rehabilitation programme and are now regular members of society, were the happy bride and groom.

The wedding, held at the Poonthottam Rehabilitation Centre by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, which operates the four rehabilitation centres in the country for ex-LTTE combatants, was organized by the Ministry of Rehabilitation, under the guidance of Minister Chandrasiri Gajadheera. It was supervised and coordinated by the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, Brigadier Dharshana Hettiarachchi.

Speaking to Ceylon Today, Brigadier Hettiarachchi said the main aim of organizing the wedding ceremonies was to inculcate in the rehabilitants a sense of responsibility, compassion, love and commitment, which they were deprived of during the war. “The LTTE had banned marriage for their cadres and even prohibited them to form relationships. Therefore, these young men and women have grown up not knowing the importance of family values, and commitment to family and their loved ones. This frame of mind creates a negative and detached personality in them. They were moulded this way, so that when required, the LTTE could utilize them for brutal killing assignments such as suicide bombings, without feeling,” he elaborated.

Family values

The LTTE women’s wing was formed in 1983, with the females initially being used for propaganda. However, they were later provided military training in 1984 and were utilized in confrontational combat and also as suicide bombers.

Hettiarachchi said they encourage the young ex-combatants to form relationships that lead to marriage in order to inculcate in them family values and bonds, so that they will develop family commitment and get over their insensitive and detached nature.

Priyatharshani, the happy bride, is an orphan who spent the early years of her life in an orphanage, but was later recruited by the LTTE. She had willingly joined the rebels in 1994 and after initial training, had been actively involved in combat, serving in the Divya Brigade for 10 years. She was known within the rebel outfit as ‘Thamil Vila’.

However, on 20 May 2009 Priyatharshani surrendered to the security forces in Omanthai, and was thereafter transferred to several camps, prior to being transferred to the Boossa Camp. She was then transferred to the Poonthottam Rehabilitation Centre for female cadres on 26 November 2011, on a court order.

Priyatharshani, who completed a one year rehabilitation programme, was integrated into mainstream society on 25 November this year.

The groom, Suntharalingam too is an ex-LTTE cadre who had completed his stint at the rehabilitation centre and had been reintegrated into society.

Group wedding ceremony

Initially, the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation together with the Ministry of Rehabilitation organized a group wedding ceremony for 53 couples, in 2010. “We sponsored everything for the mass wedding ceremony, including their attire, even their jewellery, in keeping with their traditions. Earlier this year we organized another wedding ceremony at the Kandakadu Rehabilitation Centre, “said Brigadier Hettiarachchi, adding that t a good family unit has a great impact on society.

“The members of the LTTE did not have the opportunity to enjoy family life as they were serving a ruthless terrorist organization that did not respect human values. The bond among the family members and the love and care toward each other in the family unit will always contribute positively towards peaceful living in society,” he said.

Brigadier Hettiarachchi, who believes the ex-combatants are talented and only require society’s acceptance and a helping hand to start their lives over, said society has a responsibility to assist the youngsters who had been deprived of their childhood, family life and education due to the LTTE\\\'s forced conscriptions.

Approximately 11,800 ex-LTTE cadres surrendered to the military toward the end of hostilities in May, 2009. However, currently there are only around 761 male ex-LTTE cadres who are undergoing the rehabilitation programme at these centres.

Reintegrated into society

Up to now, over 2200 ex-LTTE female cadres who have completed the rehabilitation programme have been reintegrated into society. At present there are only around 16 female cadres undergoing the rehabilitation programme.

The male ex-LTTE cadres are housed at the rehabilitation centres in Kandalkadu, Senapura and Maradamadu, while their female counterparts are housed at the Poonthottam Rehabilitation Centre.

A special programme for ‘catch up education’ was provided to these ex-combatants, in collaboration with the Education Ministry. The beneficiaries were also given the opportunity to select their vocational training programme from a wide array of forty-six different vocational training courses. These include agriculture, carpentry, masonry, outboard motor repair and various entrepreneurship oriented fields such as beauty culture and sewing.

All reintegrated beneficiaries have been given the opportunity of rebuilding their lives with the assistance of the skills obtained during their rehabilitation programme. The career programmes had been designed with the aim of supporting those who wished to set up their own businesses, including a special loan scheme for self-employment.

However, many of the rehabilitated persons have also secured employment at various private institutions such as garment factories and other industrial facilities, while others have managed to find foreign employment with their skills obtained at the training centres.

A large number of reintegrated beneficiaries have also been recruited to the Civil Defence Force (CSD) to be assigned to various development and agricultural projects carried out under the CSD. Through all these measures, the government has worked tirelessly and with great commitment to enable the former LTTE cadres to resume lives of normalcy within a peaceful and stable Sri Lanka, Brigadier Hettiarachchi said, adding that t by the end of next year, the rehabilitation programme of the ex-LTTE cadres will be completed, unless others in detention are directed to his Bureau through court orders.

By Camelia Nathaniel