I would like to begin my personal life experience starting from 1st November 1983, when I set foot on the “Land of the Singing Fish” (Batticaloa).
I was posted to Batticaloa after my initial training in Nuwara-Eliya Territory under Ranjan Palpola. Upon conclusion of the monthly conference at “Wattles Inn” in Nuwara-Eliya which I attended, I took off in my company-maintained car – 11 Sri 9004 – with great pride and happiness.
After the July ’83 riots, which resulted in the national and poltical scenario taking different shapes, it was the time I arrived at my first duty station. My predecessor, Channa Jagoda, was residing in the Batticaloa Buddhist temple. With my proficiency in the Tamil language, it was like “a duck taking to water”. I was able to interact and make friends with my trade colleagues from other companies, as well with the local community.
The territory boundaries were from Oddamawadi to Pothuvil. Within this boundary were the strongholds of the LTTE and other groups, such as Unicchi/Kiren/Chenkalladi/ Wandaramunai/Karathivu/ Kallar/Kaluwanchikudi and Thirukovil, to mention a few.
I never knew the undercurrent taking place within the region when I arrived. We used to go to Pasikuda during the weekends with friends and enjoy the beautiful beach; spending quality time till late evenings and even going for late Tamil movies.
My First Unforgettable Incident
This happened when I was swimming at Pasikuda with one of my “Batti” friends. Grecian (who was a Tamil Christian) was a good swimmer and he wanted to swim towards the reef. I too agreed and he was cruising ahead of me, while for some reason or another, I was feeling tired and fatigued. He reached the reef well before me and was waving at me to join him, while I was in discomfort and looked back to realize that I was far away from the beach. I was stuck without much energy “between the devil and deep blue sea” to reach the reef. I just thought “that’s it… I am going to drown”.
While trying to have a calm head at that difficult time, when like a “heaven-sent gift”, I saw a guy on a tube relaxing and floating about 200 metres away. I swam across with much effort and managed to reach the tube. We later became good friends. He was from “Mannar” and working for the Youth Council. Only then I knew the value of meeting “Bosco” at that crucial moment!
Meanwhile, the first signs of disruption started during the latter part of 1984 with “Hartal” of closing of shops in the region. While the government forced them to open, shop owners, as well as poor sales representatives like me who had the heart to work, were in a dilemma.
During this period, we experienced roadblocks from the Police and the STF, which made free movement difficult and night travelling became unthinkable. Then we started to hear occasional gunshots and footsteps running around in the middle of the nights.
The next serious occurrence was that people were being abducted from their sleep during the nights, by terrorist groups suspecting them as informants and they were innocent civilians. Some returned home, while some remain missing even to this date.
I experienced the change of people’s movements with gloomy looks, trapped between the forces and terrorist groups. The next shock was when some of the abducted civilians were shot dead and hung or tied onto a lamp post with a placard saying “Traitor”.
It was becoming terribly alarming and fearful.
2nd Unforgeable Incident (Blast of landminds between two towns)
Lever Brother’s Distributor was referred to as the Nominated Lever Wholesaler (NLW) and Siva Stores was located in Chenkalladi Junction. When I arrived at 8.00 am on that particular day, the staff were somewhat disturbed. I was to work in Eravur town which was 2 km from the NLW point.
I inquired what was the delay to get the lorry loaded. The shop manager told me that, between Chenkalladi and Eravur, a landmine was set under a culvert by LTTE who wanted the shops to be open as usual, so the armed forces/police would not suspect any abnormality. I was dumbfounded and told them to load the vehicle but not to leave the premises. I drove my car from Chenkalladi over the culvert by-passing the landmine and parked in front of Eravur MPCS. I crossed the road and went into the first store for the day.
The shop owner was disturbed as well with the situation and was not in a frame of mind to purchase and neither was I, to negotiate. It was around 9.30 am when we heard the blast and all shops started closing up and “poor Yunna” (short name for me) was left on the street with a few others. I ran towards my car and then realized that there could be an outbreak of gunfire at any moment and started tapping the warehouse door of the MPCS Union to let me in. I managed to get into safety and all what happened after that is history.
3rd Unforgettable Incident (Captured by the Terrorists)
A few months after the above incident, I was returning from Oddamawadi and stopped at NLW (Siva Stores) to hand over the dealer card. Meanwhile, two guys approached me with guns hidden inside a newspaper and wanted me to take them along and got into the car forcefully.
I was terrified but kept a calm mind. They told me to “Drive” before any forces could come and our lives could be threatened. A shop assistant at NLW saw the incident while I drove away to their command post towards Unicchi.
After driving for about 2-3 km, they got to a safe area with many other LTTE members joining us. I was told to hand over the car to them. I said the car belongs to me and cannot leave and I will lose my job. I was talking to them very politely to reach some settlement.
Meanwhile, my NLW managed to find the spot and reach the place where I was held captive. He had some connections with Jaffna and tried to influence them to release me with the vehicle. While they were waiting for some higher-up to give them direction, “my heart was in my mouth” thinking what was going to happen next.
My NLW kept on pleading with them and finally they agreed to accept Rs.30,000 to release me with the car. I was released around 10.00 pm after all the harassment and it was a “lucky escape” and I could be the only person to come out with the vehicle as well.
I simply cannot forget Siva who was my “guardian angel” on that day, saving me from the claws of terrorists, which could have gone either way.
The next morning, I drove to Kalmunai and parked the car at NLW and started using public transport for my work, after that terrifying ordeal.
4th Unforgettable Incident (Batticaloa NLW getting killed)
Day by day, the situation was going from bad to worse. Heavy sandbags were placed in front of the Batticaloa Police Station, which practice was adopted around all police stations in the Eastern Province. STF camp at Kaluwanchikudi was further strengthened and also in Akkaraipattu, under the command of Daya Jayasundara (if I am not mistaken).
I used to meet Anura Kithsiri and Kithsiri Aponso who were in the STF and our seniors at College but refrained talking to them, as I could be assumed to be an informant if the locals saw me talking to them. The future was heading towards a tensed situation whether I liked it or not and I was somewhat trapped.
On this particular day, I was working along Bazar Street in Batticaloa, which had a Police Post overlooking the lagoon. I finished my sales call at Murugan Stores (a wholesaler) and was walking towards Siva Nataraja Stores, another wholesaler, when a terrorist hurled a grenade towards the Police Post. As a defensive measure, they opened fired and my NLW (Abdul Qader) who was in the delivery vehicle got shot and succumbed to the injuries he sustained.
I was devastated, with people running all over the place and my dear NLW fallen across the seat, bleeding profusely. We took him to hospital but it was too late…. It was another sad and unforgettable moment in my life.
5th Unforgettable Incident (Kalmunai NLW’s son getting killed)
Life was getting tougher day by day for the citizens, with restrictions of movement from both sides. This was the period when the forces used to have a “Goni Billa” seated in the jeep and getting him to shake his head by looking at passers by. Suspects were later captured and interrogated.
During this period, I was staying at St Sebastian Street in Battcaloa. Towards the end of 1985, due to the tense situation triggered by the communal riots, my Tamil friends in Batticaloa requested me to shift to Kattankudy until such time the situation became normal.
Because of the prevailing crisis, terrorists also took this opportunity to evict Muslims from the pro-Tamil areas, taking over their lands and belongings. So “Yunna” had to change residence to Kattankudy.
My Kalmunai NLW’s son (Zakariya) had come to Batticaloa to meet his sister who was undergoing an operation. He was a good friend, being of the same age as me. He stayed with me in Kattankudy that night for safety purposes and left to Kalmunai the next morning.
The day he returned to Kalmunai, a fight broke out between terrorists and Muslims and Zakariya was shot at point-blank range and died on the spot. The friend who was with me the previous night having dinner with me was no more. I was shell-shocked. I didn’t have anyone to express my inner feelings and sadness of losing people around me while dark clouds were looming around all the time and I was filled with so much of uncertainty.
Further, I was feeling dejected and broken with no manager or associate from HO who could come. The hard work put in by me at this difficult time was fruitless, as no one was there to assess the tough situation I was going through. I requested for a transfer from HO, as things were getting out of control and beyond manageable proportions.
Finally, I was transferred to Mahiyangana Territory, which ironically was a transfer from “the frying pan to the fire”.
6th Unforgettable Meeting of Athula Perera (Sudu Athula) my senior Rugger mate at College
In mid-1985, I was driving from Kalmunai to Colombo via Amparai for a launch conference. I noticed a water bowser been escorted by a police convoy. The dashing Athula was seated on the bonnet of the jeep which was heading the fleet of vehicles and he was carrying a machine gun in his hand.
It was a real coincidence and he was heading the Central Camp Police Post which covered up to Vellaveli. He was operating in a high-risk zone which was connected to Kaluwanchikudi as well. He was giving protection for (Drinking Water) for the officials in the area.
I was so delighted to see him after 1981, when he broke his shin bone in the match against Trinity. We hugged each other and talked for a few minutes. The area we had stopped was vulnerable as well. We promised each other to be in touch but sadly that was the last time I met him.
A few months later, on that fateful day of 28th October, whilst he was escorting the water bowser, a cruel landmine was set and blasted by the LTTE. The valuable lives of our dear brother Athula and others were snatched in the flash of a moment. We lost this young Anandian Rugby player and a patriotic son of Mother Lanka.
I would like to place on record the following points which I have observed & experienced over the years with my association with people from all walks of life.
I have observed & experienced from my College days onwards, most of our sportsmen as well as students from other activities and fora joining the forces. Having sports related background and leadership awareness only is not good enough. One’s character also requires analytical skills, a calm mind, forward planning and strategic management, which are essential ingredients for officers in the forces and the Police.
I hope the top brass in the group will agree with me, but would also like you to add any other ingredients that I may have omitted.
7th Unforgettable Incident on 2nd June 1987 – Arantalawa Incident
Taking over Mahiyangana territory, which extended from Amparai to Hasalaka to Passara and a few outskirt towns such as Madolsime/Kandegedara/Katawela/Hettipola/ Meegahakivula/Bakinigahawela (some call it Bikingahawela – LOL) gave me mixed dimensions of normalcy and a treacherous area to work.
On this particular day, 2nd June 1987 to be precise, after finishing my (4-day) work at Amparai MPCS, I was to leave Amparai in the early hours, to reach Binnthenne –Pattu.
Of all days, I was feeling very restless to drive from Amparai to Maha Oya. Even though there were many Army Camps in-between, the stretch was very vulnerable and life-threatening, with many fatalities taking place around the villages and on the highway as well. More than once bitten twice shy experiences of horror incidents of two of my NLW’s losing their precious lives (Batticaloa & Kalmunai) and escaping many crossfires made me very uncomfortable on this particular day.
But with self-commitment and loyalty, I left Amparai around 6.45 am. When I was somewhere around Bakkiyalla, one of the Good Samaritans on the road stopped my car, Nissan Mach 13 Shri 6293. He told me that they heard many gunshots a little while ago. I was in a total panic whteher to proceed or not, with no mobile at that time and unable to speak to anyone to seek advice as to what I should do.
While I was waiting, to my horror I saw the CTB bus carrying the bodies of all the innocent Buddhist monks who were massacred by the ruthless terrorists at Arantalawa, with blood stains flowing over the window railings and driven back by army soldiers. I followed the bus up to the Amparai Hospital and then returned to Amparai MPCS (NLW) and no one knew until I told them.
This is one of the saddest incidents of my life and for which we all know the whole country weeps even to this very day.
These seven unforgettable incidents will linger in my memory forever and haunt me until my last breath.