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Civilians train in case of war

Whilst preparing to engage in a new series of negotiations with the Sri Lankan government, the Liberation Tigers are training Tamil civilians in the use of arms in case war returns.

An Associated Press report from the de-facto LTTE headquarters town last week said that every afternoon, civilians of all age groups from school children to gray-haired elders gather at a public playground for a session of military training which the Tigers prefer to call “training in self defense.”

“We have so far enlisted 13,000 civilians in this district for training in self defense,” said a Tiger official in-charge of the training who uses the nom-de-guerre “Por Piriyan” meaning ‘Lover of War’ in Tamil.

“We don''t want to start a war again but if it is thrust on us it is important that all the people are ready to face it,” he told Associated Press reporter Krishnan Francis as he inspected the training of some 200 men and women.

The trainees are divided into various age groups and batches and they are trained in various aspects of battle over weeks. After an initial training period they will be taught how to handle assault rifles and other sophisticated weaponry, he said.

“Don''t be taken in by the term ''self defense.'' It also includes training to pick up a gun and shoot,” said 58-year-old Subramanium Pasupathipillai, a village head who gave a forthright description of the exercise. “We should also be prepared to be up there in front when required.”

“Don''t underestimate us (the elders) seeing our gray heads. We are also capable of fighting,” Pasupathipillai said, adding that he was a volunteer member of LTTE forces that have captured well-fortified government military garrisons before the cease-fire.

“We can''t be mere spectators when our brethren are killed in numbers by the army,” Pasupathipillai said, accusing government troops of killing scores of Tamil civilians.

Responding to a query about civilians becoming easy targets for government troops once they are trained, Por Piriyan said civilians are targeted whether they are trained or not.

“It does not make a difference to them [troops]. It is only because the civilians were targeted before that they are coming to us now for training. It gives them power to face it,” said Piriyan, who says this name may have been chosen for him by the guerrilla group because of his enthusiasm for fighting.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s Dumeetha Luthra, reporting from Jaffna found that amid increasing violence, “he Tamil people are, however, the worst sufferers - there are increasing reports of them being harassed, kidnapped and killed.”

Mudiyappu Ramedius, a lawyer at the Human Rights Commission office in Jaffna, says the number of such complaints has risen dramatically.

“Tamils are being killed regularly by what officials say are ‘unidentified gunmen.’ However the public perception here is that the military is behind these incidents. That in turn creates anger and more violence,” Luthra wrote.

“All along the Tamil-dominated [Jaffna] coastline, joining the Tigers has become a common cry,” she says.

“Although no-one admits it openly, many here have been trained by the Tigers to build up a so-called civil defence force.

One fishermen who does not want to be identified describes the training to the BBC: “The training is for day and night offensives, and how to use different types of rifles.”

“Like all young men preparing to fight their first war, Sri Lankan soldiers here are scared and nervous,” Luthra wrote from Jaffna. “But their commanders, who fought the rebels in the last conflict, say they are ready for any eventuality.”

“Fresh-faced young men are already facing an invisible front line … Every time they leave this base they confront the possibility that a claymore mine attack will blow up their convoy.”

Meanwhile the LTTE’s naval arm, the Sea Tigers, this week completed the training of three batches of ‘auxiliary’ militia.

The LTTE auxiliary units are comprised of selected cadres who, whilst not members of the LTTE, get training above the basics being given to the large number of civilians.

TamilNet reported that the ninth group of Sea Tigers'' auxilliary force, which trained at the Lt. Col. Maravan training camp in Vadamaradchy east, held a gruaduation ceremony on Monday.

Separately, the fifth group – 125 cadres - held a passing out parade at the Lt. Col. Thiruvadi training camp in Manalaru (Weli Oya) the same day.

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