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Rehabilitation, a complete success - Brigadier



 Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe

Commissioner General Rehabilitation, Brigadier Sudantha Ranasinghe expressed satisfaction over the rehabilitation process, which was launched soon after the ex-LTTE combatants surrendered to the Security Forces in May, last year.

“We accepted them with open arms and warm hearts, and have won their hearts and minds. They feel that they have seen the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Brig. Ranasinghe.

Here the excerpts of the interview with the Sunday Observer on the rehabilitation process of the ex-LTTE combatants in the backdrop of the country celebrating the first year anniversary of defeating terrorism:

Q: How do you assess the rehabilitation process of the ex-LTTE cadres in the past year?

A: First of all I want to say we do not call them ex-cadres or combatants any more. We call them children as they are now closer to us. It was this time last year the youngsters who were under the clutches of the LTTE came to our shelter. Their condition was miserable. No proper clothing, food or medication for those wounded and disabled. They had been brainwashed by the LTTE hierarchy saying that they would be sexually abused, tortured and finally killed by the Security Forces if they surrendered to them. But they were delighted and felt that they were in safe hands when they surrendered to the Security Forces.

The soldiers did whatever they could to make the surrendees comfortable.

The entire process of rehabilitation began by carefully going through the profiles and the legal registration of surrendees, separating them from the Internally Displaced Persons.

The humanitarian operations in Vanni came to an end in May last year. However the entire rehabilitation process began in the middle of last year when all basic needs of the 11,696 surrendees were met.

In this past year several encouraging developments took place with regard to the rehabilitation. Now we are in the process of releasing the surrendees and they are also uniting with their families.

Q: How many of them have been rehabilitated so far?

A: A total of 2421 have been released in recent months after rehabilitation, 1574 of them were males and 847 females, 253 were children and 55 university students. There were also 1170 disabled.

When the rehabilitation process started the children were given the option either to continue with the formal education or follow vocational training. Two hundred and ninety three children opted to continue with formal education. So these children were brought to the Hindu College, Colombo and allowed to continue their studies. Some children sat for their Ordinary Level examination in December last year and many of them got through. These children are also playing for their school cricket, soccer and basketball teams.

These children have also been taken on sightseeing tours. They also had the privilege of having a meal with the British High Commissioner at his residence in Colombo.

Q: Could you explain how the rehabilitation process is carried out?

A: Those who underwent the rehabilitation were in several categories. Before joining the LTTE most of them were involved in agriculture, carpentry, masonry, driving heavy vehicles and fisheries. There were 4200 who were employed before .

Therefore, we categorised them into several groups and started to rehabilitate them according to their abilities.

Then we started our training programs in various fields with government funding. Children were trained in dancing, music and other educational activities. Women were trained in sewing, cookery, beauty culture, computers and horticulture. The hands which were carrying lethal weapons and meddling with cyanide capsules began to do useful and constructive things. The training programs were mainly carried out with assistance received locally.

The children who were admitted to Hindu College, Colombo were looked after by the All Ceylon Hindu Congress. The organisation chaired by V. Kailasapillai is doing a tremendous job in providing necessary requirements for the children who are being rehabilitated.

The plans are also worked out to provide training in new techniques in agriculture and fisheries in Jaffna and Batticaloa.

Q: What is your comment on the response from the cadres to the rehabilitation programs?

A: Very good. At the initial stages we had some security concerns but now I have tremendous confidence that none of these people will run away. We have won their hearts and minds. They have now realised that they see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We won the sixty percent of the rehabilitation war on the day we accepted these people with open arms and warm hearts. They were traumatised by the LTTE. Those cadres were wanted by the LTTE hierarchy to fight till death.

But soon after they surrendered the treatment they received from the Security Forces made them realise that their sufferings are now all over. Food, medicine and decent clothing were provided to them.

The people from the border villages who were earlier the victims of the LTTE provided them meals.

So from the very inception of the entire process the response from the surrendees was encouraging.

Q: Do you monitor the activities of the rehabilitated surrendees once they are released?

A: So far we have released the people who had less involvement in the LTTE. Children, females and disabled. We released them with the certificates confirming their release. Once the release is done we inform the Government Agents, Grama Sevakas and the officers in charge of the police in the areas where the rehabilitated are released.

We do not go behind them. However we have told those rehabilitated that they could contact us whenever they face any problem. We want them to lead a comfortable and a peaceful life in the areas they belong to.

The assistance is provided to begin their occupation.For instance if a person is engaged in farming support will be given to him.

Likewise the support and guidance will be given in whatever occupation they chose, to ensure that they lead a trouble-free life once they have gone back to society.

Q: Do you find any difficulty in rehabilitating the hard core type such as suicide cadres?

A: We did not have suicide cadres. There were some radicals. But later they realised that they have a future and they should work towards it.

They know that we are genuine. We have also given the guarantee for their entire life. So they cooperate with us very positively in rehabilitating themselves.

Q: How about handling the disabled cadres?

A: There were 1170 of them. But at present we don’t have any. Apart from thosewho had lost their limbs and hands there were several with total blindness. When they were under the clutches of the LTTE they did not receive any proper medical assistance. They were badly neglected. Since they came into our hands we provided them with all necessary medical assistance.

When the cadres who had lost their limbs were released they were given artificial limbs.

Q: Is there any different approach in rehabilitating the cadres from the universities?

A: We use university students as leaders. The university students in their capacity as leaders among others undergoing rehabilitation give lessons to them in various subjects.

They are teaching students in the GCE Ordinary Level classes. Those university students have been given the guarantee that they will be looked after well and that they could return to their universities and continue with their studies.

The university students are from various faculties including the medical and they all from the University of Jaffna.

The total number of university students under rehabilitation is 148. Males 97 and females 51.

Out of this lot 51 females have already been cleared and sent back to the university.

Q: How do you describe the assistance you received for the rehabilitation process?

A: Government plays a major role in the entire rehabilitation process. The All Ceylon Hindu Congress helped us in looking after the children admitted to the Colombo Hindu College. International Organisation of Migration (IOM) helped us with transport facilities. UNHCR helped us in to run the child centres. The Government of Sri Lanka is spending Rs. 100 million a month for the maintenance of these people.

We need lot of support for this entire rehabilitation process.

This is entirely a humanitarian program.

Therefore instead of criticising the good efforts carried out in rehabilitating the ex-combatants, meaningful assistance should be given for this good cause.

The Tamil diaspora could help in a big way. We need assistance towards the community based rehabilitation process.

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