They flee in numbers. They flee in search of peace hoping an end to an era of terror. They flee not to tell fairy tales but to reveal horror stories in Wanni.
The LTTE`s ruse to make a human shield to evoke international sympathy in the wake of steady military offensives penetrating through Wanni jungles to destroy the LTTE`s last bastion, is to `explode` soon with the exodus of civilians from Kilinochchi, Mullaithivu and Vavuniya to government-controlled areas.
It is yet another game of the fittest and richest. While poor civilians - young, old and sick - are being forcibly driven from one LTTE base to another, people who have money `get secret` clearances to reach government-controlled areas. But it is a nightmarish journey where they brave the sea and land. According to latest information, the LTTE, which is unable to face the intense military operations, has `locked` all the possible avenues for civilians to flee the terror-filled territory.
`My brother who paid Rs. 700,000 to a boatman to take his family to Mannar was arrested by the LTTE three months ago and is in jail in Kilinochchi now. Those who are caught by the LTTE have to serve seven year imprisonment`, Manamohan, says.
Unlike his brother, Velu his wife and two-year-old son are lucky to escape from the LTTE as their secret mission worked out well until they reached the Kallimottai IDP Centre, Mannar, where over 600 IDPs are housed.
Living in constant fear of abduction and under tough `rules and regulations` imposed by the terrorists, who are facing the hardest ever defeat in their history, these civilians who fled Mannar told the `Sunday Observer` how the LTTE is preparing for its last battle.
Knowing very well the fact that it is feeding the world`s most ruthless terrorists, the government is now in a humanitarian mission to link Colombo, Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu to supply more food, medicine and all other necessary requirements to civilians living under the clutches of the LTTE.
According to the latest statistics, over 700 civilians have escaped to government-controlled areas by taking sea and land routes during the past eight months.
Manmohan married Rewathi secretly despite the opposition from both parents and fled to Kilinochchi to live a happy life. But with the closure of the roads the couple, who are from the Kayts, were trapped in the LTTE-dominated Wanni. The couple in their twenties were not issued `passes` to travel out of Kilinochchi. As new residents in Kilinochchi, they witnessed the inhumane acts of the LTTE which tried to conscript one member from each family to strengthen its declining man-power.
`The LTTE cannot survive longer there. People do not support them because of their rigid rules. They are sick of the LTTE cadres who are harassing people`, says Manmohan who worked as a labourer when the LTTE tried to kidnap him. He says that the young cadres who have been forcefully taken to the battlefronts, are now deserting the LTTE as they are now aware that the outfit is engaging in a failed battle with its fighting capabilities declining daily. These carders have no confidence in the present leaders in front lines. `Fighting for the LTTE is compulsory for those who are 18 and below 45 years.
They have ordered all State and private sector workers in Wanni to join the combat training`, he says. Manmohan escaped the LTTE twice and spent most of the nights in the jungle but the third time two cadres carrying arms abducted him. As they were taking him through a jungle patch he pushed and assaulted them with their weapons and disappeared in the forest.
The following night he came home and planned his journey. Rewathie with their son started the journey from Paranthan taking the risk. She was with others in the bus plying from Kilinochchi to Mullaithivu. She misled the LTTE saying that she visits her parents in Mullaithiv. Her baby `saved` her as the LTTE did not check much those who are carrying infants. She left the house leaving all their valuables in Kilinochchi but carried with them their marriage and birth certificates and the IDs.
Manmohan walked miles through the forest to reach their friend`s house where they arranged to flee in a fishing boat. Before the Sea Tigers resume their duties they - the Manmohan family and members of other two families - sailed and reached the government-controlled area in the morning.
As people are fleeing in fishing boats, according to the informed sources, the LTTE has now ordered the fishermen to put the boats in a yard and the engines to be removed and kept in their homes. The LTTE is now using all their energies to stop civilians fleeing and recounting the horror-tales of Wanni.
Grouping people together is another method that is now in use to prevent people escaping of Wanni. Each person in the particular group is held responsible for others and if one escapes, the rest will be subjected to severe punishments.Another group of civilians was arrested by the Sea Tigers when they were fleeing in a motor boat. The LTTE took men into their custody and shaved their hair. Later, they were taken to the kovil and put the holi powder on their heads. Boards indicating the punishment for those who flee Wanni, were hanged around their necks and paraded in the village.
Those who violate the rules imposed by the LTTE are subjected to a three-months jail term. According to information, there are over 4,000 civilians who defied the LTTE languishing in LTTE`s prisons - Alfpa 1, 2, 3 and 4 - in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu. The major offences that warrant the detention of these civilians, are criticising the outfit, assaulting the cadres and giving refugee to its deserters. Some civilians assert some of these people in the LTTE prisons were forcibly deployed in the battle fronts.
Meanwhile, those civilians who refused the work assigned by the LTTE, helped the security forces, refused to give their valuables like gold to the outfit and helped the civilians to flee Wanni, are also serving jail terms in these prisons. The LTTE policemen whom the people are not deployed fully in the battle fields.
Manmohan says that people in Wanni, though they have no access to information about the battle field, want the military to free them from the LTTE clutches. `Our people want to live a peaceful life and their only hope is to give a good education to their children but as Tigers abduct school children, most of the parents do not send their children to schools.
They keep them hiding. Now they wonder how long they are going to hide their children?`, he says.There are lots of incidents in Wanni where the parents have protested against the LTTE when they try to snatch their underage children. However much the LTTE denies the fact that they deploy underage children in war, the stories coming from their own people cannot be a hoax.
The LTTE`s evil eyes started casting on the 14-year-old Sidathan. When the parents heard the news, they made every attempt started to protect the child from the outfit. The teenager was compelled to live in hiding day and night. But when the terrorists issued a dealing to hand over the child, the family decided on their final journey.
The parents were not willing to let their son die at so young at a fierce battle front. The parents, who got this child after many years of marriage making vows at each and every kovil in Killinochchi, did not want to sacrifice his life for a failed dream of a `separate state`. The trio committed suicide before the LTTE came to pick their son.
The whole village mourned and cursed the terrorists warning them not to step into the village again to take their children with them.Incidents of suicides among those who were enlisted by the LTTE for training and those who deserted the outfit are on the increase now. The civilians in Wanni are not left with any option other than the `do or die`.
As Manmohan puts his sorrow into words, lots of people want to share their bitter, painful and fearful experiences to show their agony.In Puthukkudiiruuppu the LTTE had a recruitment drive a month ago by conscripting children for combat training.
The unfortunate incident happened when a gang of LTTE terrorists snatched the 12-year old boy who was playing in a compound. In a heated argument, the Tigers assaulted the parents who were against taking their youngest child. The father (60) slept on the ground in front of the white van to stop them taking the boy. As he did not heed the orders to move out the terrorists ran over him. The poor man died a pitiful death.
A similar incident was reported from Wishwamadhu in Mullaithiv where the LTTE tried to abduct a youth in a refugee camp amidst strong opposition of the family members and inmates. There was a big commotion as the people could not tolerate the forced recruitment any more.
Those youth who were taken from the camp never returned and still the families mourn for them. A pregnant woman, cousin of the youth, tried her best to prevent the LTTE taking the latter. While the brawls between the refugees and the LTTE cadres were taking a serious turn, several refugees and the pregnant woman tried to stop them. But the Tigers had assaulted them all with their weapons.
She started bleeding and was taken to the Kilinochchi hospital. But as her condition was serious and due to lack of facilities to treat her she was transferred to the Vavuniya hospital. But the area leader of the LTTE ordered not to take her there so that they could prevent the tragic story going out. The woman died due to heavy bleeding that evening.
Ganeshalingam (43) is a farmer who fled Killinochchi as he was ordered to join the LTTE`s combat training. The note says that training is compulsory for all those who are above 18 and below 45 years of age. Knowing nothing about fighting, the farmer without informing anyone arranged the journey with a friendly fisherman whom he paid Rs. 15,000, the hard earned money sent by his wife, a housemaid in the Middle East, for the trip.
`Earlier, joining the LTTE and the weapon training was not compulsory. But now the villagers cannot refuse the order as the LTTE will either kidnap us or will cut down the ration. No option is left for the entrapped civilians. The food and all other stuff sent by the government are controlled by the LTTE though the distribution is carried out by the GA`, he says.
According to Ganeshalingam, the LTTE manipulates the government officials including the GA and the NGOs engaging in the food distribution, where the families of the LTTE cadres are given priority. ` We do not know the food allocation for the refugees and we cannot question the LTTE.
The truth is that the innocent civilians, who do not want their families die in hunger, accept the challenge of becoming LTTE cadres`, he adds, saying that most of the civilians who were forced to fight the military do not want the war at all.
Forced labour is another phenomenon in Wanni. As the manpower of the outfit is shrinking, the LTTE uses civilians for constructing bunkers and all other logistical activities, including felling of trees for bunkers, road clearances and loading and unloading of the heavy goods etc.
Working for the LTTE is compulsory and those who engage in making bunkers, cutting miles-long trenches around the bunker sites will get the ration cards. Each villager is forced to work for seven to ten days without any payment at all in these sites.
Dharmalingam says that those who have money but difficulties in doing heavy work are exempted. But they are required to pay too the poor villagers who represented them at the rate of Rs. 1,500 a day for ten days.
He says that the image and the popularity of the LTTE is fast fading as the LTTE has intensified child conscription and letting the civilians who are against the outfit to starve. ` Earlier the LTTE commanded a great respect and people helped them even by giving over their children to the Movement. But now people want freedom and they hate the LTTE`, Dharmalingam who lived 10 kilo metres away from Paranthan says.
Meanwhile, he says, the LTTE has ordered to donate one pint of blood from each family member including elders and schoolchildren and also obtain a `pass` for the ration card. The `pass` will allow them to receive medical care and other provisions distributed by the NGOs.
According to the civilians, priority is given in hospitals to the LTTE casualties even over the very serious illnesses of other people. The patients with minor injuries and other aliments are left helpless.
Civilians complain that over 50 percent of food and other items sent by the Government, NGOs and INGOs go to the LTTE. They will distribute a larger portion of the stock among the `Maha weera` families (the families of dead LTTE cadres) and `porali families` (families of those who are in the battle fronts). The remainder will be sold to the poor civilians at high prices.
They also state due to the strict rules enforced, deserting the LTTE has become the most difficult task for the young cadres. If one has deserted the Outfit, the result is one`s family member would be taken into custody or father or brother conscripted. They are compelled to engage in heavy work under difficult circumstances. There are many occasions where those who had deserted the outfit returned or committed suicide after being aware of the agony, the family members suffered.
The LTTE has cut down all communication links in Wanni to prevent information leaking out. In a `complete closed door scenario`, the Wanni people are now barred from knowing what is going on in the battle front to liberate them.
The civilians are only allowed to listen to `Voice of Tigers`, the LTTE`s broadcasting service which always trumpets victory. Civilians who smell the military mission coming forward to liberate them, secretly listen to the radio channel broadcast by the EPDP. While all other information awareness are shut to them, the LTTE propagate their activities and call for joining the outfit through leaflets and posters.
` People listen to the EPDP radio channel. But if they are caught, the LTTE will fine them Rs. 3,000 and will smash the radio`, says Dharmalingam recalling an occasion where the villagers in Puthikuddirruppu assaulted the LTTE cadres who brought the dead body of a youth who was abducted months ago and forced to die in their front lines.
He says the relatives of the youth had damaged the vehicle of the LTTE and chased the cadres away. A motor bike belonged to the LTTE was burnt by the angry villagers. The LTTE had insisted the family to have the funeral according to the `Maha Veeran` ritual but the relatives refused funeral rituals of the LTTE and cremated the body following their own tradition. Now people have started assaulting the LTTEers who come with dead bodies of their cadres who were forcefully taken to battle front.
` Now instead of handing over the bodies to the families, the LTTE itself will perform the rituals and send a note saying that these cadres were cremated honourably`, says Dharmalingam, who `saved` his daughter`s life miraculously by changing her living frequently. The twenty-year-old girl shyly starts talking with her eyes downcast.
She had a terrific experience at the classroom where her best friend was abducted by the LTTE cadres. ` While they were crying and screaming the terrorist cadres took them away and we never saw them again`, she says. A tear drop glistens in her eyes.
That was the last day for her as well as for many of her classmates. They never stepped into the school and she says that later some of them were abducted by the LTTE at their homes.
The parents in the IDP centre breath a sigh of relief now as they escape the LTTE terror. Though they are displaced, these civilians who fled the land of terror, are happy to feel the freedom.
Gayathri who arrived at the IDP centre few hours ago looks at the young army officers who guard the camp and who offer their food to her family with great amazement. She says that she and her friends were taught at school by the LTTE that the Sinhala army are blood-thirsty creatures who will kill and torture the Tamils.
`I cannot believe my eyes. They did not know that we were coming. When my parents inform the soldiers that we were coming for days without food, they gave us their meals`, still she cannot believe what she experienced herself.
All these civilians have different horrific tales to relate. The children who refused to die have fearful tales about their lost childhood and miserable days in LTTE camps and battle fronts.
Their stories will recount the times where the innocents were kept as human shields to realise an increasingly distant dream of a single man - the most ruthless terrorist, Vellupillai Prabhakaran, who wants to divide this tiny nation into two.They rarely break into grins as they still know most of their kith and kin are suffering and left to die under the deadly shadow of the LTTE terrorists.
` If the Sri Lanka Navy can arrange boats, there would not be a single civilian in Wanni. They all will come to government-controlled areas`, Manmohan says. His words speak a lot - the agony and the hope for freedom.