LTTE child soldiers on combat duties

One of the saddest aspects of the treatment of citizens of the Vanni as hostages was the manner in which several international agencies did nothing about this. I have noted previously the manner in which no one working in the Vanni deigned to make it public when the LTTE was recruiting children from each family, and it was left to the Norwegian ambassador to reveal this to us formally after his visit to the Vanni.

There had indeed been a complaint from the then head of Save the Children, when the families of his employees were affected. I upbraided him at the time for having kept silent when the children of other familes were being taken, and his excuse was that surely government would not want Save the Children to be implicated in hostilities through family members of employees. My response was that I was not upset with him for finally protesting, it was his silence when the children of others were being recruited that horrified me.

Astonishingly, all this was going on while millions were being spent on what was supposed to be programmes to ensure protection for children. Needless to say, questions about the impact of these programmes, and efforts to ensure accountability, were met with obfuscation.

I was particularly interested in what seemed money squandered on an organization called Annai Illam which seemed to me yet another LTTE front. To quote from a letter I sent in January 2008 –

Would you be able to let me know the total of Project Funds expended on such activities, and the different Projects that are being implemented in these areas? I noticed in the last CHAP a number of different projects that seemed to overlap, and was wondering whether some streamlining might be possible when similar outcomes are desired.

            I gather from your letter that Annai Illam has conducted many activities though the schedule only mentions a workshop in which they assisted. Would it be possible to let me know the funding provided to Annai Illam for their work? I was also interested in the provenance of the teacher/s, ie the training and qualifications that contribute to the successes you mention.   

            Did these groups in any way contribute to resistance to the forcible recruitment we discussed when we first met? And how did children trained in the skills described respond to the type of militarization that occurred in those areas during this period?

I should note that the then Head of Save the Children, under whose watch life-jackets marked with their logo and not previously reported as missing (unlike the boat donated by them which was used by the LTTE) was found with terrorists, left soon after, and was replaced by someone who did his best to work positively, without indulgence to terrorism. But the sheer wastage of funds over several years while children were being tormented in the Vanni makes clear the callousness of many individuals purporting to have been in Sri Lanka for humanitarian reasons.

Over the course of 2008 and 2009, we made several efforts to ask agencies to appeal to the LTTE to allow the hostages to leave. We met with dogged resistance, even when their own staff were held back. At one point I thought we had made a breakthrough, but I believe this was stymied by a particular strong personality, who headed the Solidar Consortium, which included one of the agencies that was responsible for the heavy earth moving equipment the LTTE used, without government being informed that this loan or theft or whatever it was had taken place.

I did have faith in one person working for the Solidar consortium, the Englishman who headed the German Aid Agency ASB (incidentally, almost all individuals working for Solidar were British, though some had multiple passports and strange names). Matthew Todd, whom I wrote to on my concerns about what seemed undue indulgence to terrorism, replied as follows on one occasion –

1st April 2009

In fact, in a confidential report on 17th March, we refer to an incident where “……as soon as this happened LTTE have stopped the fleeing civilians.”   In the same report, we refer to assets that had been handed over for use by the Government Agents that were “taken by LTTE at gun point”.   On this latter point, the Government Agents and INGOs who handed over assets made a joint press statement, which although it was released on 12th March, did not appear in most of the local press, although some did report it subsequently in connection to the forced recruitment by the LTTE of a UN staff member.

You may wonder why we keep this information confidential and internal, and why we have not made public statements about this, and also why I have marked this letter as confidential.   The reason is simple:  following our relocation to Vavuniya, a number of staff who were prevented from leaving for Vavuniya by the LTTE restrictions on movement, volunteered to work under the auspices and direction of the Government Agents of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu; we continue to recognize their service, and to pay their salaries, whilst they continue to work as GA Volunteers; these Sri Lankan citizens have made phenomenal efforts to continue to provide basis humanitatrian services to the displaced population, under the authority of the GAs, and through the mechanisms established by the GAs to coordinate their activities; they are themselves part of the displaced population currently “held hostage” by the LTTE; both as colleagues for whom we have the deepest respect, and as “hostages”, we feel we have a duty of care to ensure that we do not, through public statements, place them in further jeopardy with those who currently are preventing them from leaving with their families for safer areas.

With the ASB workers now safe, along with all other NGO workers whom the LTTE kept behind (thus making it fairly obvious that there was no massacre of civilians as alleged), there is no need to keep the letter confidential, as I discussed with Matthew. But I think it also important to register the arguments that I made to him at the time, in order to indicate that it was the welfare of all that we should consider, and that the LTTE, which relied so much then, as now, on international perceptions, would not have found it easy to resist a concerted demand that the people of the Vanni be released –

3rd April 2009

Your final point struck me as more important to discuss, in that I believe we suggested to all the NGOs that withdrew from the Wanni in September the need to make clear your position with regard to the failure of the LTTE to let your workers and their families leave.   Whilst I cam appreciate your concerns for their safety, and we certainly cannot be dogmatic on that point, we indicated that the LTTE relied a lot on its continuing hoodwinking of what is termed the international community, and therefore a concerted demarche by all the NGOs who had suffered the same fate could have led to a positive result.   We pointed out that doing nothing would simply prolong the agony, and so it has proved, not only for your workers but for thousands of others.

 

Had you all acted in concert, it would not have been possible for the LTTE to take revenge on your staff, unless it was prepared to commit financial and moral suicide.   That it could not and would not do, given how it depends for its existence on the image it has managed to convey to the more gullible members of the international community.   It was precisely because of the indulgence shown to the LTTE by those who knew them better that they have been able to go on for so long like this, to the increasing suffering of the people of the Vanni.

In that respect I feel even more strongly now, as I felt then, that many of you have a moral responsibility for what is happening now.   I can only hope that you will use whatever moral strength you have to try to rescue those people still struggling in the trap in which the LTTE has enmeshed them.

Yours sincerely

Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary

(Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights)

Daily News 13 May 2011

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