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January 16, 2008

When the Suicide Bomber Is a Woman

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Menake remembers her first weapons class: “They gave us sticks at first, just poles, to practice with. Then we got Kalashnikovs. I’d never held a gun before. I knew I would eventually have to kill another human. They said we needed our country, and we would have to take lives to get it. When you’re with the LTTE, there’s nothing else to think about; it’s all they put into your head — the Sinhalese are our enemy, the Sri Lankan government is our enemy. That’s all you’re allowed to concentrate on. Before, I never thought about whether the Sinhalese people were good or bad. But the officers kept telling us about murders committed by these people. They said we must kill them to regain our Tamil motherland.”

Every evening, Menake and the other recruits watched military films, many of them Chinese, some produced by the LTTE. “They were always about war,” she says. “The training videos showed us how to fight, how to use weapons, how to kill. Some talked about how, when girls die, they become heroes.”

Escape attempts were rare. Those who tried were invariably caught and never seen again. “I don’t know what happened to them,” says Menake. “We were closed up in the camp, with so many restrictions. It was dangerous to try and escape. The jungle was thick with poisonous snakes and wild elephants. When the elephants were nearby, we’d set fire to bushes or bang metal plates together to scare them away so they wouldn’t trample our tents. But even if I could have escaped, who would have taken me in? I was an economic burden. On my own, I would have starved.”

At the end of basic training, the recruits were split up and dispatched to other divisions. “I was supposed to get computer training,” Menake says, “but that went to a girl who had lost both her legs in the fighting. So I was sent to the intelligence-gathering camp.” There, she claims, she spent her days clipping newspaper articles on the conflict. “It was very boring.”

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