Tamil youth sign up

[TamilNet, Sunday, 15 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
The Sri Lankan military offensive in the Vanni, apart from precipitating a humanitarian crisis, has another side effect the Sri Lankan government may not welcome: the youth of Tamil villages destroyed by deliberate Sri Lankan bombing and shelling are flocking to LTTE recruitment centres.

LTTE TrainingRagu is barely eighteen. Although he has witnessed intense fighting through much of his life first in Jaffna and then in the Vanni, he had never been motivated to 'get involved'. True to his Tamil parents wishes, he has focused on his studies, disrupted as these were in Jaffna by the economic embargo and shelling from Palaly army camp.

The war irrevocably affected him and rest of the Jaffna population when the Sri Lankan army launched operation Riviresa. Over 30,000 Sinhalese troops attacked the town with artillery, armour and air power. Ragu and his parents fled the city at the end of October 1995, making their way to the shores of the Kilali lagoon.

They made the two hour boat trip across the lagoon, under Sri Lankan gunship fire. The boat next to theirs was hit, and 4 people were killed. Once they reached the Vanni shore, they made their way to relatives homes in Kilinochchi. They had a few months of comparative peace before the Sri Lankans stormed Kilinochchi in August and they fled into the jungles again, making their way to Mankulum. Their civilian column was spotted and strafed by a marauding Sri Lankan Puccara.

On 8th June, Sri Lankan artillery fire screamed into Mankulum without warning. The central market took several direct hits and several dozen people were cut down. Ragu helped other youths carry some of the wounded to a makeshift ambulance, a Japanese-made minibus.

Since then, along with several other youth, both refugees from Jaffna and Mankulum, Ragu has signed up at the local makeshift LTTE recruitment centre. He admits his parents are unsure of his decision to put aside his studies, but he has not been able to pursue these for several months anyway.

At an LTTE boot camp in the Vanni scrub, he and dozens of other recruits are going through basic training. Though he is eager to strike back at the Sinhalese troops, it will be several months before he will see combat. He has not been given a weapon yet. As in many armies the world over, the next few months will be spent learning basic infantry skills, developing fitness and assisting rear echelon LTTE units.

Despite the need for more front-line troops, the LTTE instructors say that they would prefer to send fully trained fighters to the front. "There is no point rushing them to the front to die for lack of preparation" said one. "A handful of good fighters are more useful then a battalion of lambs." He does admit that youth like Ragu are ideally motivated. "Do you think it will be difficult to get volunteers to go after artillery sites such as Elephant Pass or Thandikulum?".

Those who complete training will be issued with the Tigers trademark cyanide capsule. Apart from preventing inevitable torture before death on capture, it is also a coveted recognition of graduation into the LTTE fighting ranks.

Unlike Ragu, many of his fellow recruits have lost one or more relatives in indiscriminate Sri Lankan shelling. Despite their motivation, some may not see combat. The LTTE instructors' practiced eyes will select those suitable for front-line service and those better suited to support duties. Many are keen to join the elite units such as the Charles Anthony Brigade. A tiny handful may volunteer for the Black Tigers.

At Tiger camps all across the Vanni, large numbers of Tamil youth are signing up. The Sri Lankan onslaught into the Vanni region is in effect stampeding the Tamil youth into the LTTE's arms. The LTTE's recruitment officers hardly have to extol the Tamil Eelam cause in many villages.

This is not a unique development. The LTTE recruitment officers know from experience that, times of massive Sri Lankan violence are the easiest time to sign youth up. One officer said that following the Sri Lankan army's capture of Jaffna in December 1995, within days several hundred youth signed up in Batticaloa district alone.

Contrary to the Sri Lankan government's propaganda about the LTTE being short of men and being forced to rely on women and children, there seem to sufficient recruits to fight the kind of war the LTTE are preparing for. A training program instigated in April for several hundred seasoned fighters is continuing despite recent developments in the south of the Vanni where Sri Lankan troops have advanced to Omanthai and Neddinkerni.

It is estimated that 3000 Tamil women serve with the LTTE's combat units. They have distinguished themselves in combat both against the Indian army and the Sri Lankans. The Sri Lankan military's violence against Tamil women is a motivating factor to join for some, but others join given the equality of gender practiced within the LTTE and encouraged in areas controlled by the Tigers.

The Sri Lankan government probably expects the continuous and deliberate shelling and bombing of Tamil villages and towns combined with the draconian ban on food and medicine into the region to induce a sense of war-weariness amongst the Tamil population. However, in many areas, it is reinforcing the LTTE's rallying cry of security in a separate Tamil state.

The LTTE intensified it's campaign for independence following the island wide pogrom against Tamils in July 1983. Over 50,000 Tamil civilians have been killed in the government's attempts to crush the Tamil struggle. In the 1977 elections, the Tamil people of the island voted overwhelmingly for parties supporting independence from Sri Lanka.


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