Friday, Oct 10, 2003
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By V.S. Sambandan
``Peace means freedom. Freedom for our sons to walk about and play,'' laments a grief-stricken Thangamalar Mahoharan, whose 18-year-old son was among those allegedly abducted. She is in tears as she holds the photograph of Piratheepan, her first-born. With excellent academic credentials an ``outstanding'' grade in Political Science in the school-leaving examination she had hoped that her son would move to Colombo for higher studies and then get a ``bank job''.
``We raised him up for 18 years. We want him with us. The LTTE has said he will be sent back. I am hopeful,'' she told The Hindu on Tuesday.
A few streets away at the Valaichchenai Hindu College, from where Piratheepan completed his studies last year, 22 students, including nine girls, from the commerce stream stayed away from classes for two days, protesting against the abduction of two of their classmates Arputharajah Prasad and Roshan Michael. ``We want our friends back. We are not going back till then,'' the students said in a rare note of defiance.
However, at a press conference organised by the LTTE in the rebel-held territory of Batticaloa, 11 youngsters, including seven taken away from Valaichchenai, said they had ``volunteered'' to join the Tigers. Parents and local accounts differ. Citing eyewitnesses, they say the students were asked ``to help push a van that had stopped on the road and were then taken away''. The parents emphasise that their children are ``unfit for military service'' and should be sent back.
``It is like an ogre that descends from the hills once in a while and takes children away,'' said Jesuit priest, Harry Miller, 78, an American who has made Batticaloa his home since 1948. ``Each time everybody hopes it is not their child. But some time or the other it would be the turn of their child.'' A former rector of the town's well-known school, St. Michael's College, Fr. Miller, said: ``the east has been pillaged'' and that ``it is always easy picking'' as ``there is no one to stop the LTTE''.
In a poor seaside village off Batticaloa, truancy persists. ``I don't want to go to school. I cannot buy a mathematics notebook. The teacher scolded me and I dropped out two months ago,'' said an 11-year old boy, who lost his parents during the war. As he roams about on his bicycle, he adds to the ranks of the youngsters from Batticaloa who would become ``easy picking'' for the LTTE.
Denying charges of abductions, the LTTE says these youngsters join them ``voluntarily''. Asked specifically about instances of under-aged children, a local LTTE functionary said: ``those below 18 will be sent back to their parents through the UNICEF's transit camps''. The continued recruitment was explained away as a ``process'' triggered by ``uncertainty'' over the progress of the peace process and being in a ``state of preparedness if the talks fail''.
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