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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2422

My journey with Anton, Adele Balasingham and Yogi in 1991

By Prasad Gunewardene - Asian Tribune

In a moment of silent reflection, and just another moment of deepAnton, Adele BalasinghamAnton, Adele Balasingham thought, my mind explored events of the past when I read a report on Adele Balasingham , widow of late LTTE theoretician, Anton Balasingham now living in a luxurious house in Surrey. The report recalled how Adele was addressed as 'Aunty' by those child soldiers of the LTTE when she garlanded them with cyanide capsule around their necks, unlike the usual Aunties who graced the necks of children with gold chains and pendants.

Exploring the past, my mind recalled to memory the first 'face to face' meeting I had with Anton and Adele at the Army Grounds in Colombo on April 4, 1991. During the moment of my deep thought and reflection, I recorded that day as a day I met, and had to accompany some people who caused untold misery and destruction to my society and the country. Therefore, in my journey in this noble profession spanning three and a half decades, the following narration does not recall sweet memories to mind. That journey with them, I took at the risk of my life, a period the Indian Army battling the LTTE.

I pen this narration after 18 long years when Anton is dead, Yogi in custody, and Adele living a luxurious life in the United Kingdom having forced several cyanide capsules down the throats of an uncountable number of innocent Tamil children who were turned child soldiers with her blessings. And at a time the cruel armed terrorist war inspired by her late husband Anton, herself and Yogi is over, and the people breathe the purified air of freedom after being dehumanized for thirty long years.

On the morning of April4, 1991, the Joint Operations Command (JOC) of the Sri Lanka Army telephoned the then Editor of the Daily News, Manik De Silva (now Chief Editor-Sunday Island) to inform there was a press conference scheduled at the JOC Headquarters at 10.30 am to be chaired by the then State Minister for Defence, Gen. Ranjan Wijeratne during the Premadasa government. I was summoned to the editor's room by Manik and directed to cover the press conference. Accordingly, I left to the venue located at Flower Road, Colombo 7(a few days later this JOC building too was bombed by the LTTE).

The time was eleven and there was no sign of Minister Wijeratne arriving to address the media. The auditorium was packed to capacity with the local and foreign media in attendance. A few minutes later, I remember Brigadier Daya Wijesekere walking into the auditorium to announce that the press conference was cancelled.

Before, the media crowd could disperse, Brig.Wijesekere requested the four journalists from the local print media to stay back. They included myself (Daily News), Suresh Perera (The Island), Leon Berenger (Sun) and S.M.Pillai (Virakesari). A few minutes later, we were told to board an army jeep and was driven to the Army Grounds in Colombo. We were not given access to telephones to inform office. Sri Lanka did not have the facility of mobile phones at that time. The military acted in a hurried manner to rush the four of us to the Army ground. After we reached the army ground, we were told to sit in the pavilion and some soldiers kept guard. The four of us wondered as to why we were brought there to be seated in an empty pavillion at noon.

Seated in the pavilion well past noon in hunger, we saw a helicopter wending its' way to land at the Army grounds. I told Suresh that something secret was happening at the 'top' and possibly we could be flown towards North. Suresh nodded in favor while Leon Berenger cracked,” How good if we could go there". While we were making predictions, the helicopter landed. The first to alight from the helicopter was a white skin woman followed by a dark, tall spectacled man. We identified them immediately to be Anton and Adele Balasingham. Some Army officers brought the couple to the pavilion but debarred us from talking to them. Four sentries kept guard to prevent us from getting near the couple. In the meantime, another helicopter landed on the Army grounds.

After the second helicopter landed, an Army officer requested us to follow him. We were put inside the second helicopter, while the Balasingham couple boarded the helicopter that brought them the Army ground. While in the air, we were wondering as to where the hell we were being taken. Inquisitive to know the destination, the four of us (Suresh, Leon, Pillai and myself) asked an Air force officer accompanying us as to where we were being taken.’ Hold on, we will tell when we are close to the place', he said sporting a mischievous smile. After a minutes (we would have been in the air for nearly one hour by then),the Air force officer told us to tighten our seat belts as the helicopter may fly at low and high altitudes. The ground area at that point, we saw from the air was certainly Vavuniya. The helicopter began to fly high and low making us very uncomfortable. We peeped through to see what was on ground- it was a thick jungle. But, we saw some red carpert like mats thrown on ground in some clear areas of that jungle.

An Airforce officer told us that we were to land in just under five minutes. As the helicopter lowered, we saw a huge white cross made out of cloth on ground indicating the place of landing. There were young men dressed in military fatigues on top of trees with automatic weapons in hand. That was the Mullaitivu jungle and we landed close to the LTTE’s A-4 base. Just before we landed, the Air force officer told us that the Premadasa government was going for peace talks and we had come to pick some Tiger leaders to be taken to Colombo. What we earlier saw as red carpets from above was nothing other than the LTTE drying red chillies. The Mullaitivu jungle looked inhabited even at that time with civilians seen in the area we landed.

As we alighted, Dilip Yogaratnam alias Yogi, the tall, handsome man wearing spectacles in the company of Raheem, another LTTE leader embraced Anton and Adele who alighted from the other helicopter. We saw a number of child soldiers armed with weapons. Yogi and Raheem were very fluent in English. They both were engaged in a conversation with myself, Suresh and Pillai for nearly twenty minutes while Leon who could speak Tamil did a walk in the area cracking jokes with young LTTE cadres. Yogi told us they were coming to Colombo to begin peace talks with President Premadasa.

Raheem inquired from us about the welfare of our colleague, journalist Ajith Samaranayake( now deceased), whom he had met at Trinity College, Kandy. Yogi summoned a young Tiger cadre and asked him to bring some Chocolates and King Coconut (Thambili) for us stating were looked very tired. The young Tiger cadre with an AK 47 Rifle in hand brought us some Kandos Chocolates and King Coconuts. The four of us, without even lunch that tired afternoon enjoyed the chocolates and the king coconut drink.

While Anton and Adele boarded the helicopter they came in, Yogi, Raheem and three other LTTE cadres boarded our helicopter to return to Colombo. We took off from the Mullaitivu jungle around 3.00pm that day and landed at the Air force base at Anuradhapura for refueling. I immediately asked permission from the Base Commander to inform my editor and he obliged. When I called Editor Manik De Silva, he burst out-'Where the hell are you, I am waiting for your press conference copy from Ranjan Wijeratne?' I explained to him as to what took place from the point of the JOC meeting in Colombo."When you land in Colombo, rush to office I need the copy for the first edition", he ordered. After refueling we took off to Colombo. The three Tiger cadres in our company started vomiting all the way and Yogi said they were not used to flying and that could be the reason. We had to part with most of our news print meant for notes, to help them wipe their mouths.

We landed at the Colombo Air force grounds around 5.00pm to see a massive crowd in waiting to capture the LTTE men with us. Former Rueter's Bureau Chief in Colombo, the late Dalton De Silva was seen in the lead of the batch of foreign journalists waiting for the LTTE men. As we landed and alighted, Anton, Adele, Yogi, Raheem and the other LTTE men were bundled into two cars under tight security and whisked away to the Galadari Hotel, Fort where they stayed till the first round of talks were over. I rushed to office to meet the deadline given by my editor, Manik De Silva.

- Asian Tribune -

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