government of Sri Lanka released over 700 Tamil rebels on Saturday after taking part in a rehabilitation program. The former militants were reunited with their families in a ceremony held by President Mahinda Rajapakse
After several months of being trapped in internal displacement camps and taking part in a government-run rehabilitation program, the Sri Lankan government has released more than 700 ex-militant Tamils, according to The Canadian Press. President Mahinda Rajapaksa handed over the former combatants to their families but 12,000 former fighters, including children, still remain in the vocational program(s).
General Daya Ratnayake said that 713 of the 800 who were identified for their release were handed over to their parents, reports Voice of America. More than a third of the 12,000 former rebels are currently being trained in such trades as plumbing and carpentry. In the past, many Tamils were released to travel overseas to work, however, the official number is not known.
The Sri Lankan President, who faces fierce opposition from former military General Sareth Fonseka in this month’s Presidential election, spoke in Tamil language at a ceremony in the northern part of the country and said, “The terrorists led you astray and the suffering you endured as a result is beyond words. We will give you employment for your skills and you must start lives anew.”
However, many human rights groups call the detention an illegal form of collective punishment for Tamils.
One Tamil said, according to AFP, that he was with the Tigers for 15 years and worked with their printing press but quit in 2007 to look after his family. He later gave himself up to the Sri Lankan authorities once they captured the area. For the first few months he was unable to see his family and only communicate through letters and during his time at the rehabilitation center he was taught the Singhalese language and meditation.
“I feel I have been in the dark not knowing what’s happening in the outside world. Now I must become a good citizen, and I am determined to give my children a good education and make sure that they grow up as good people.”
Dev Fakruddin, a Toronto Tamil demonstrator, told Digital Journal in an e-mail on Saturday that he finds the rehabilitation centers unnecessary because a lot of the Tamils already are trained, educated and self-determined but feels the only reason that the Tamils are going through the vocation schools is because the Sri Lankan government wants to make them adapt to Singhalese traditions and leave the Tamil culture behind.
“Many people accuse the Tamils of brainwashing others but the fact is that the Sri Lankan government, through these detention and rehabilitation centers, is the one doing the brainwashing of the Tamil people. Even kids are being trained to adapt to the lifestyle of the Singhalese majority. Why is that? These are kids and they should adhere to their traditions and culture.”
Fakruddin added that he was amazed that the Sri Lankan government even forced suspected rebels into the internal displacement camps and rehabilitation centers. “What if these people never committed a crime? What if they didn’t even touch a gun? Or weren’t part of any rebel group? What will happen to them? Will they be compensated for their time that was gone and their village that was destroyed? Of course not.”
He concluded that he hopes a genuine change comes in this election as Fonseka is a favorite in the Sri Lankan Tamil community as he promised them infrastructure and economic assistance to the Tamil area of Jaffna. “The Tamils have persevered through decades of war. Barbed-wire camps, torture and death. So I’m pretty sure we will survive this election.”