Hiding away in Arugam Bay: Paul Harris

More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism,m Part 98
Over the next few weeks, allmediascotland.com is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. A?a??E?More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in JournalismA?a??a??, is being scheduled for publication next year.

I visited the east with Nanda Godage and we were joined by an Indian journalist, P K Balachandran of The
Hindustan Times. A?a??E?P.K.A?a??a?? was an old Sri Lanka hand who had been in the country several years. Affable and incisive as he was, I was never really sure why he was to join us. I knew why I was there A?a??a?? as a sounding post, with my intelligence background, for Godage.

The visit to the east convinced me more than ever that the LTTE were up to no good. In Pottuvil (March 12), the fears of the Muslim community were clearly expressed in a series of meetings at the appropriately-named Hideaway Hotel. We visited a place by the sea called Kumari and I was moved by the plight of a woman whose son had been taken by the LTTE. Ordinary people clearly feared the stranglehold the LTTE was imposing under the guise of peace. In Ampara (March 14), I was impressed by the men of the Special Task Force (STF).

In Batticaloa, the security forces seemed under no illusion as to what was going down. What they could not understand was what Colombo was up to. On March 16, we crossed into LTTE territory in the company of the local MP, Krishnapillai. The most interesting thing about the meeting was the appearance of his wife. She soon broke down into tears. The price of LTTE support for her husbandA?a??a??s election to parliament had been their eldest son. They had handed him over to the LTTE for military training.

As Nanda spoke with the Peace Secretariat and the Prime MinisterA?a??a??s office on a Sunday morning (March 17) from Trincomalee, the sound of cannon fire broke the still. I assumed they were practice rounds but the firing went on for a quarter of an hour or so and I could see puffs of smoke in China Bay. LTTE gunboats were probing the harbour defences.

In Muttur on March 19, the local Sinhala community revealed they had met and voted to a man, and a woman, for that matter, to leave if the security forces were to withdraw their protection.

Our trip to the east was rounded off on March 20 with an impressive briefing at military headquarters in Minneriya by Maj Gen Sunil Tennakoon, himself a former intelligence officer. In the cool of his air-conditioned office, he gave us a two hour-long briefing and left us in no doubt as to his own views and, indeed, those of the military establishment generally. The LTTE were gathering men and materiel for war.

At NandaA?a??a??s request, I compiled an intelligence report for the Prime Minister drawing together all the strands of our visit and culminating in a risk assessment.

I wrote a couple of articles for the Mirror and my Telegraph articles were re-published in The Island. It seemed to me that the real Achilles Heel of the LTTE might be the organisationA?a??a??s lack of a sense of humour. In my perception, it was an unreformed and anachronistic revolutionary movement spawned a quarter of a century previously in the school of Castro and Guevera. I wrote a number of wry, mickey-taking articles. It seems that these essentially harmless, humorous article really hit home, which was, I suppose, what I wanted.

The intro to one of my Mirror articles raised hackles………..

‘These LTTE people are oh, so charming. With their cheery smiles, mild manners, warm open features and welcoming handshakes they are straight from the Saatchi & Saatchi public relations manual for Transformation of Terrorist Leaders into Genial Uncle Figures. They make the government Information Department chaps look like grumpy ogres. Who could possibly think that friendly, limping man Mr Thamil Chelvam was such a rotter? Then thereA?a??a??s that nice man Mr Karikalan who holds court over the eastern province from his remote fastness in Kokkadicholai.

‘He greets you with a firm handshake, beaming genially from behind a pair of designer spectacles. He reminds you of Mole, rather than Ratty, from Wind in the Willows. Such a nice man . . .Somewhere in the background is that rather tasty looking girl, Banuka.

‘I first noticed her at the Batticaloa Pongu Thamil. She gave a dynamic, powerful performance haranguing the crowd. It was infinitely more effective than that of all the politicos put together. And it was oh, so sexy. A sort of beautiful version of Margaret Thatcher. I have definitely developed a crush on her (Banuka not Margaret Thatcher). SheA?a??a??s an absolute cracker. In more ways than one. Apparently, she sends the female cadres out into the eastern province to deal severely with male A?a??E?eve teasersA?a??a??. They beckon rude boys into back streets for hoped-for hanky panky, then beat them to pulp with karate chops. On second thoughts, I think IA?a??a??ll leave her alone. But IA?a??a??ll still have fantasies about her . . .’ Order differin cream online

Satire is, of course, well established in Britain as both a literary form and a political tactic. It is in its infancy in Sri Lanka and I did not then realise the truly devastating effect my piece would have. The day the article appeared A?a??a?? April 1, appropriately enough A?a??a?? the phone rang from early morning.

Several journalist colleagues wanted to know if the rumour that I was having an affair with LTTE womenA?a??a??s leader, Banuka, was true. What had been meant as wry humour became instant rumour. Nanda Godage was shocked. A?a??A?I hear youA?a??a??ve dared to call Thamil Chelvan a rotter and Karuna a bad egg.A?a??A?

He opined that there could be A?a??A?very serious consequences.A?a??A? At the time, I found that rather amusing in itself. But I was still on the learning curve. . . Within days Prabhakaran had called both Karikalan and Banuka to his jungle fastness in the north for some meaningful discussions.

But the article which seemed to find its mark, long before it was published thanks to surreptitious emailing around the world by the magazineA?a??a??s staff, was one I wrote for Lanka Monthly Digest……

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