Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Child soldiers fight LTTE ghosts

AMBEPUSSA (SRI LANKA): Kumudha absent-mindedly fiddles with her left forefinger. Then, looking embarrassed, she hurriedly tucks it into the folds of
her skirt. She often forgets that she has no forefinger. Only a stub.

The finger was sliced off by a sniper's bullet while she was guarding an LTTE bunker in Konavil village in Kilinochchi in 2008. Heavy fighting had broken out as the Sri Lankan army pushed ahead in the north. This was just a couple of months after bullets pierced her right thigh and she was hospitalized.

In 2004, in the midst of a Norwegian-brokered ceasefire, the LTTE was on a recruitment spree. Kumudha, barely 20 and all set to get married, was among the 100-odd young men and women and children hustled along a jungle trail from Amparai to Valaichenai in Batticaloa district in the eastern province. For nearly five years, she was forced to fight for the LTTE until she finally managed to flee in early 2009 from Visuvamadu.

On March 16, 2009, Rani (name changed), 17 years, was dragged from her house in Puthukudiyiruppu, kicking and screaming. She hugged her mother tight, shouting at the LTTE cadres to leave her alone. Despite her pleas, Rani was carried away to Valaignarmadam, north of Mullivaikkal. For five days, the girl, along with others aged between 12 and 17, was trained in handling rifles and grenades.

"In the camp, the young children would cry, begging me to take them home. I felt helpless," says Rani. For five days, she stayed in the Tiger camp and finally decided to make a run for it. LTTE cadres opened fire at her. "Bullets grazed my shoulder," she says. Injured, she managed to reach her home and her mother.

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