Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Tiger assaults on the intellect and the soul

( Created date: 17-Dec-2008 )

Amongst the saddest stories connected with the welfare centres for internally displaced persons set up in Mannar are those of the University students who wish to resume their studies. A couple of these were sent on to Jaffna, but eight – and since then some more – have been held back. This seemed strange but, when the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights looked into the matter, checking on names with the Vice-Chancellor in Jaffna, it was found that there was good reason for caution.

These students had not been at university since 2006. They said they had gone to the Vanni during the vacation, and then found themselves stranded after the LTTE launched its sudden attack on the army checkpoint at Muhumalai. Using an ordinary bus, and disguised as civilians, terrorists had tried to break through the army defences, during the period in which they also launched their offensive in the East.

The forces managed to hold them off, and then decided that enough was enough, and defence meant ensuring that they would not be subject again to such sudden assaults. A corollary of this was that the Muhumalai checkpoint was closed. The students therefore could not get back to Jaffna by moving northward from the Vanni along the A9.

However, there was nothing to preclude them from traveling, through the Omanthai checkpoint, southward into Government controlled areas, and thence by ship or plane to Jaffna. Why had they not done this?

Personal interviews with three of them led to the categorical and bitter assertion that they had not been issued passes by the LTTE. In short, here were youngsters, obviously very able if they had gained admission to university from the Vanni, being stopped from pursuing their higher education because of LTTE intransigence. These youngsters surely deserved sympathy, and instant conveyance to Jaffna to pursue their university careers.

But then, clearly one had to wonder what they had done in the Vanni during the two preceding years. They were after all of an age to fall prey to LTTE conscription. It was more than likely then that they would have been forced into training camps, forced to become adept at using weapons of destruction – and perhaps trained also in other methods of violence.

Asked what they had done, they denied that they had been trained in warfare. How had they escaped this, the conscription that was so ruthless, as we are finally told by those who concealed it for so long? The two boys said they had hid by moving from place to place, one of them in the jungles throughout. The girl said that she had remained shut up in her house.

These stories did not sound plausible. The girl in fact turned out to have a home in Jaffna, and said she had gone to the Vanni in August 2006 because her uncle was ill. She had sent a medical certificate to the university. It was unlikely then that the LTTE was unaware of her existence. Similarly, the boys said they had been refused passes to leave. It was unlikely that their existence, given how few there are from the Vanni who gain admission to university, was unknown. And if they were in hiding, the LTTE had ways of compensating for their disappearance, hunting down younger members of their families – as in the case of the poor English teacher who said she took up arms to save her younger siblings.

None of this makes these youngsters culpable. They are obviously victims of ruthlessness, of the demand for personal sacrifice that has turned the Vanni into a moral and intellectual desert. But saddest of all was the response when these victims were asked why they did not appeal to the NGOs that claim now to have stood up for the people of the Vanni against oppression and deprivation.

The response was total incomprehension, surprise that we did not know the NGOs did nothing to help. Perhaps they could not, and we should not blame them either for their acquiescence in brutality. But we can certainly blame them for their pretensions now, when they assert concern for the suffering people they betrayed so shamelessly for so long, with nary a word about forced conscription (until their own workers were affected), nary a word about enforced labour, nary a word about abuse of all the food and supplies the Sri Lankan government continued to send in, to benefit its own citizens, not terrorists.

And that is why it is horrible to think of the wish amongst some people that the LTTE, like a phoenix, will rise again from the ashes. These children deserve better. Risks that may lead to mass destruction have to be avoided but, at the same time, we need to do more for these long deprived souls, locked inside a house for two long years, skulking in the jungle, to escape conscription and forced labour. A concerted effort is needed to persuade the LTTE to surrender, to give up its hopes of using one or two of them for purposes we cannot simply ignore, to put a stop to all this suffering – and the greatest responsibility to ensure this lies on those who kept quiet for so long, when bright youngsters were being driven to despair.

Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretary General
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process


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