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Scarred by Sri Lanka's war with Tamil Tigers, female ex-fighters build new lives

Many women fought for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka's 26-year war. Critical gaps in education, psychological problems, and physical injuries make job opportunities tough to come by.

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A former female Tamil Tiger rebel dressed in bridal attire looks on as others dress up another bride during a mass wedding ceremony at a government rehabilitation camp near Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka in June.

Eranga Jayawardena/AP

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Pathma, Rasathy, and Jano aren't your average group of friends. These three young Sri Lankan women, veterans of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war, represent a hopeful sign for thousands of the country's ex-combatants.

The former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters Pathma and Rasathy are each missing an eye from shrapnel wounds during the 26-year civil conflict. Jano, part of the LTTE’s "Sea Tiger" naval unit, lost her leg.

These three women have secured jobs with a garment manufacturer with the help of the International Organization for Migration (IOM). With most of their peers unemployed, the women are happy to start earning 6,000 rupees ($54) a month producing cotton T-shirts for export. Though they still have plenty of hurdles to overcome, the reintegration of these ex-fighters give Sri Lanka cause for hope as they demonstrate resilience overcoming the poverty that pervades life here.

Up to 100,000 Sri Lankans were killed during the war, which pitted the Colombo government against the LTTE, which was fighting for a Tamil state. In 2004, after LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran’s bitter split with Colonel Karuna and his government-aligned forces in the east, abductions and violence within Tamil communities increased.

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