Ilankai Tamil Sangam

23rd Year on the Web

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Memories of TS

by N Malathy

His commitment to ending under-18 recruitment was real. He felt hurt throughout 2006 when the media and international VIPs failed to recognize the strenuous efforts that were being made by the LTTE and himself in particular. He told me that he would take full responsibility to end new underage recruitment, and he did.

The 2002 ceasefire agreement threw Tamilselvan truly into the international stage. For many Diaspora Tamils like me that was the first time his name became a familiar one. It was also a time when the Diaspora Tamils were attracted to Tamil Eelam. Hundreds of thousands of them came with many different goals. I came too to see if I have any role here in peacetime.

My first few hours in Tamil Eelam were to become a scene setter for me. The driver of the vehicle in which I traveled from Colombo took me to the Head Quarters of the Political Wing to meet Tamilselvan. Since nobody there knew me, I was made to wait a few hours at the PR office nearby.

There was a 16-year-old girl there, who had been brought to the PR office by her mother. Initially the mother said that the girl was recently released from the LTTE through the Transit Camp run by UNCEF as part of the 2003 Action Plan. They had come to collect some certificates, she said. But when their turn to meet the officer came, the girl suddenly revealed her real intention. She refused to go back with the mother. The PR officer was faced with the only option: advising the mother to leave her daughter at the educational training centre. The outraged mother stripped the girl of all her jewels and left, cursing everyone. To me, this was the beginning of trying to understand the “child soldier” issue within the LTTE. I had just seen an aspect of this that I had not read about. Three years later, I heard a UNICEF Head referring to this issue of child soldiers as a “sexy issue,” which in some way completed my three year process of understanding this issue.

Based on this first impression of a 16 year old at the PR office, when I met Tamilselvan a couple of hours later, I told him rather strongly that there is a need to research and report on this phenomenon and that the LTTE has failed to do this. I hardly realized at that time how weak this aspect, that of explaining “the various issues of the LTTE” to the western society, was.

Tamilselvan responded to my comment approvingly in his characteristic manner of acknowledging a Tamil person who has said something worthy. This involves some loud laughter and some characteristic Tamil phrases. Then and there, he promised me to give complete freedom to study the issue and write about it. This was in early 2004. He understood what I am about immediately.

Tamilselvan kept to his promise and gave me a vehicle to travel wherever I like to speak to badly affected children in varying situations. As I gained an insight into the picture first hand, I was outraged at the skewed representation of the “child soldier” issue in the media. I wrote a few articles and produced some documentaries. But that was to be only part of the picture. Over the next three years, I had more in-depth dealing with this issue, first at NESOHR and later at the Child Protection Authority (CPA). It is a revealing, enlightening, deeply upsetting, complex topic. During the last year of my work at the CPA, I had my most frequent contact with Tamilselvan about the “child soldier” issue. It was a very rewarding working relationship. His grasp of issues at all levels and his ability to listen with a smile to griping comments of all sorts made him an outstanding leader to work with on such a thorny issue.

Tamilselvan's commitment to ending the “child soldier” issue is what gave me the confidence to take a major role within the CPA. I was not disappointed. His commitment to ending under-18 recruitment was real. He felt hurt throughout 2006 when the media and international VIPs failed to recognize the strenuous efforts that were being made by the LTTE and himself in particular. He told me that he would take full responsibility to end new underage recruitment and he did. He had handed the task of releasing those who had already joined the LTTE to Thiagaraja, another senior LTTE member. Between the three of us there have been endless discussions, complaints, communiqués on how to deal with this internally to end it and, externally, to educate the media and the international VIPs about the genuine efforts that were being made by him, the CPA and the LTTE.

However many people there were in Tamilselvan's meetings and however many differing opinions those people held, his meetings were always harmonious. Is it because of the LTTE discipline? I think not. He had the ability to direct meetings. On a greater scale, he managed a massive sub-organization of various branches of the political division. It is something that an outsider would hardly know about. Something even I, after being here for more than three years, do not know about fully. He managed it brilliantly. He spread a warm Tamilselvan space around him, within which everyone felt comfortable working. Both LTTE members and non-members alike kind of swam in it. All doubts were referred to him and his advice sought. That is not to say that they were always accepted like an order, but it was always good to seek his view. It was more than his intelligence and competence that helped create this aura. It was his truly selfless service.

I learnt something about the renowned LTTE member view of the world talking to Tamilselvan. It was not said directly, but he - in a very literal sense - did not fear death. He contributed to my understanding of how ready and fearless they are to die. My view is still incomplete; I am still learning. I also had my own criticisms of him. I will strive to understand some of these, too, as time goes on.

Tamilselvan treated people with the greatest of respect. Many people close to him commented after his death about his constant reprimands for not taking enough safety precautions from the incessant aerial bombardments. He inquired after the bunker facilities available to me at the places where I worked. He did that to many people. Alas, his fondness for his office/residence has made him neglect his own safety.

Most of the western media writing about Tamilselvan after his death said he was the public face of the LTTE. How well he served that role as a smiling rebel cum de-facto prime minister. That is how he will be remembered in history.