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Money and guns fuel paramilitary war

Tamil men and boys are being kidnapped from Sri Lanka’s impoverished east by Army-backed paramilitary groups before being given weapons training and paid hefty salaries to engage in attacks on the Liberation Tigers.



The base salary for graduates in Sri Lanka is between 3,000 and 5,000 rupees a month, according to the Asian Development Bank. The Sri Lankan military is paying paramilitaries in its campaign against the LTTE 6,000 rupees a month.



Three conscripts who surrendered to the LTTE in recent weeks whilst on Army-sponsored missions to assassinate Tiger members and supporters in the Batticaloa district revealed the mechanisms of paramilitary recruitment at a press conference this week.



They also revealed details of the extensive involvement of Sri Lanka’s armed forces in sustaining a cycle of violence which has claimed almost 200 lives this year alone.



Apart from providing bases and training for the paramilitaries, the military is supplying weapons and coordinating the attacks, they said.



The LTTE says Sri Lankan military intelligence is deploying five paramilitary groups in a concerted campaign of violence against its members and supporters in the eastern province.



The military denies any involvement in the attacks and claims gunmen loyal to renegade LTTE commander, Karuna, are responsible.



Karuna, the Tigers’ most senior commander in the east, defected to the SLA in April 2004 following the collapse of his six-week rebellion against the LTTE leadership.



Since then several LTTE cadres and supporters, paramilitaries and security forces personnel have been killed in violence that has come to be characterized as a ‘shadow war.’



Suresh Kandasamy (16), Babu Selvam (15), and Shanmugam Sarwarajah (21), who addressed the press conference this week surrendered to the LTTE on separate occasions in the recent weeks.



Suresh and Selvam, from the Tamil village of Karapola in the Polannaruwa district, were kidnapped in August this year by cadres of the Karuna Group.



Suresh said he was first held in a bunker in the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) camp at Kakachiaveddai, before being processed by a senior member of the Karuna Group, Jim Kelly Thatha.



He was given weapons training and sent on missions against the LTTE. He was paid a salary of 6,000 rupees a month to work for the Karuna Group.



Suresh surrendered whilst on another mission against the Tigers: he had been given a pistol and sent to gun down a person on the Mandoor bridge.



‘I was staying at the home of my relatives in Murakadanchenai and receiving daily wages through my jobs at the mill and the paddy field. The Army came to my relative’s house after I returned from work one day and arrested me,’ he told reporters.



‘They sent me to the Karuna Group and placed me in a dark room. The next day, a man named Sitha, from the Karuna Group, forced me to work for them and said they would pay me Rs. 6,000 each month,’ he said.



‘They trained me for six days. After the training, they sent me and another boy to Kaakaachiveddai, which is an LTTE-controlled area with orders to shoot an LTTE cadre.’



‘Sitha commanded the other boy to shoot the LTTE cadre and then steal the cadre’s ID and other personal belongings. I wanted to escape from the Karuna Group, so when I arrived at the camp I took refuge with the LTTE,’ Suresh said.



Selvam was kidnapped by paramilitary cadres riding in a Dolphin van and taken to a paramilitary camp in Thivuchenai, Welikanda, located close to an SLA base. He was also pressed into the Karuna Group’s ranks and paid 6,000 rupees a month.



Selvam said he knew of the murders of at least seven Tamil youths who were brought into his paramilitary camp.



Although the paramilitaries are being sponsored by the Sri Lankan military, the Karuna Group boosted its revenue by carrying out robberies in Oddamavadi area in Valaichenai, Batticaloa, he said.



Selvam told reporters: ‘as I was returning from work one night, three people kidnapped me. Their names are Rajikumar, Rangan and Majakan. They told me to stay with them and they would pay me Rs. 6,000 each month.’



‘I was sent to Theevuchenai, where there is a paramilitary camp. They trained me for five days and took me with them when they performed an attack that happened on 30 October in Kaddumurivu.’



‘The SLA also came with us for this attack and they spoke in Sinhala,’ he said.



After that attack, he was ordered to use a grenade to kill an LTTE member named Mahesan, Selvam said.



‘They told me that if I did this, they would give me Rs. 10,000. I took the grenade and went to the LTTE camp and that is when I escaped and told the LTTE about this.’



Shanmugam, said he had been lured back from a job in Qatar by Markan, a Karuna Group cadre who promised him a job in a Sri Lankan embassy.



‘I believed him and went to Colombo and Markan met me at the airport. We went to Theevuchenai and introduced me to the SLA forces from the Senapura camp. They told me that now I am one of their members,’ Shanmugam said.



‘Markan asked the SLA to help me while I travel, requesting that they not ask for my ID, passport or other documents so that I can travel easily,’ he said.



Shanmugam said there were at least 65 persons in the paramilitary camp in Thivuchenai where he was given training.



He said that many were unemployed when the paramilitary group approached them and promised to provide a job and Rs. 6,000 each month.



After a month of training Shanmugam was taken in a Sri Lanka Army armoured vehicle to an SLA base in Chenaipuram in Welikanda where he was introduced to Captain Kumarasinghe, the camp commander.



The paramilitary group received supplies, instructions and was under the complete supervision of the SLA, Shanmugam said. Paramilitaries drew rifles and grenades from SLA camps before attacks on the LTTE, he said.



Notably, Shanmugam accompanied Sri Lankan Navy commandos during the killing of a Sea Tiger commander, Dikan.



Shanmugam was supervised by a Sri Lanka Army officer, Kumarasena, who leads a unit of military intelligence soldiers based in the toothpaste company in Batticaloa.



Shanmugam escaped on September 25 when he was sent on his own to assassinate a senior LTTE member.



Kumarasena had driven him in a vehicle belonging to the elite counter-insurgency force, the Special Task Force (STF) to Manmunai and sent him by a fishing boat with a rifle to Kokkaddicholai to kill his target at an LTTE camp there. Instead, Shanmugam surrendered.



The cycle of killings that escalated in the wake of Karuna’s rebellion and defection has alarmed international truce monitors who fear for the February 2002 ceasefire.



‘The way the two parties have been behaving in the last few months is not exactly in the spirit of the ceasefire agreement,’ said Helen Olafsdottir of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).



‘If (the Tigers) are committed to peace, then they had better well sort themselves out, and that goes also for the government,’ she said. ‘The killings will not stop until you have the LTTE and the government sitting down to find a political solution.’



Last Saturday, paramilitary cadres abducted three young men at gunpoint in the area of Kaluvankeni, Eravur. Uthayan Selvaraja (25), Subramaniyam Kanapathipillai (32) and S. Leethan (31) were forced into a white van and then taken away in the evening. In the preceding week, at least five people were reported to have been abducted.