The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, the Tamil Tigers. A feared guerilla army, a banned terrorist organisation who recruited child soldiers and trained suicide bombers. The LTTE waged war on the Sri Lankan state for 26 years, a brutal conflict that left 80-100,000 dead.

There were ten men and women in the group sitting in a simple village hall near Batticaloa in the east of Sri Lanka. Nine were former LTTE fighters. Most of them had done Healing of Memories training implemented by National Christian Council of Sri Lanka (NCCSL) based on work developed by Fr Michael Lapsley[1].

Kokkaddicholai, Batticaloa_Kubethiran_ex-LTTE_2

This man was suicidal but now counsels other ex-combatants

After an initial 3-day workshop there are follow-up sessions to help the ex-combatants face the issues and challenges. NCCSL keeps in touch with participants. There are local groups who also help support each other.

They shared their stories of how the training had helped them change their lives after the war. One man had lost part of his leg, was held in captivity for three years after the war ended and felt suicidal. Through NCCSL’s intervention he trained in electronics and counselling so he can help others. He also employs ex-combatants in his business. Another said he had been tortured and was unable to work due to his physical injuries and mental health. He showed us the scars of his wounds on his torso and said he and has wife have been unable to have children due to his injuries. Counselling and support through the NCCSL programme helped him and he is now a dairy farmer.

Kokkaddicholai, Batticaloa_ex-LTTE_4

She was a Tamil Tiger fighter, now runs a food business

Others told similar stories of being able to recover from the trauma of war and set up a variety of businesses.

There can be no denying the strength and courage of the ex-combatants to have gone through the Healing of Memories programme and rebuilt their lives in the face of immense challenges. They still face problems, especially since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected last year. He was Defence Minister when the Sri Lanka military launched the massive offensive that ended the war in 2009.

CID officers visit regularly to ask about their activities which feels intimidating and threatening. Army and intelligence agencies know the ex-combatants and will harass them. All said they are worried about their children’s futures.

Thanks to NCCSL, Healing of Memories and on-going support these men and women have largely recovered from the trauma they suffered, but they face further difficulties and discrimination. Their memories have been healed, but others won’t let them forget.

[1] Lapsley was born in New Zealand and served as an Anglican priest in a religious order in South Africa. An anti-apartheid activist, he was seriously injured by a letter bomb sent by South Africa security forces. See his book Redeeming the Past (Orbis Books, 2012).