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Tamils praise govt efforts to rehab LTTE cadres, pledge support

The government yesterday received accolades from a section of the business community for going ahead with the challenging task of rehabilitating captured LTTE cadres in the immediate aftermath of the final battlefield victory over the LTTE in May.

Contrary to fears expressed in some quarters, including the Tamil Diaspora, a major rehabilitation effort is now underway with the support of the international community, Sri Lankan business leaders and the Ceylon Hindu Congress.

Chartered Accountant Rajan Asirwathan, former head of Ford, Rhodes and Thornton and Company and former Chairman of the Bank of Ceylon and accountant Viswanathan Kailasapillai, former Deputy Chairman of the John Keells Holdings yesterday commended the government efforts when Justice and Law Reforms Minister Milinda Moragoda and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa visited the Hindu College, Ratmalana to see a performance by ex-LTTE cadres studying at the College.

Moragoda told The Island that a public-private sector partnership was necessary to help LTTE cadres to change their lives. International support as well as the commitment of the Tamil community, too, would be critical, he said adding that their programmes were on track.

One-time John Keells’ financial genius Kailasapillai assured their support for the project which would transform LTTE combatants to professionals who could return to their villages after completing their education. He said that a university education would not be beyond their reach if they took advantage of the opportunity given by the government.

He recalled how he first met young combatants at a detention centre at Poonthottam several weeks ago. "You and your parents were scared. Some parents did not want the Army to move their children to Colombo. But today, you are studying at a leading school in the country. This is very important," he said. He expressed confidence that the children could be worthy citizens and that one day people of all communities will live in harmony.

Asirwathan, a member of the then President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s peace delegation, recollected the scene at the Poonthottam detention facility during his visit. "I was there on the invitation of Minister Moragoda and Commissioner General of Rehabilitation Maj. Gen. Daya Ratnayake. The children were confused and they did not know what was going to happen. They probably feared for their lives but once I talked to them in Tamil, their attitude obviously changed," be said. Asirwathan paid a glowing tribute to the Army, particularly officers and men in charge of the facility at Poonthottam for taking care of the children. "Their approach to detained children made a big difference," he said while appreciating the assistance provided by many organisations.

The formal education facility for child combatants is supported by the UNICEF, IOM, Giffy Products, Leads Social Service Organisation, MAS Holdings, John Keells Holdings PLC, Ceylon Tobacco Company, Ceylon Hindu Congress and Principal and staff of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya.

Maj. Gen. Ratnayake said that of 566 child soldiers, 273 were moved to Colombo on October 21 this year. Aged between 12-18, they experienced severe difficulties on the Vanni front before being rescued by the army or surrendering themselves along with civilians. The war veteran said that the rest were receiving vocational training elsewhere. He assured the students and some of their parents brought by the Army for the function that the government would do everything possible to help them lead a normal life. He reiterated their commitment for the project while emphasising that this would not have been possible without the support extended by the Tamil community.

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