Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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Arrested by the GoSL Army

by K.Mylvaganam  

After 25 hours of agony, anxiety, uncertainty, tension and fear, I was a free man. All these were due to the silly and idiotic action of some uneducated, chauvinistic elements in the army. No sooner I returned to Kilinochchi, I took a cutting of a picture from a paper similar to the one in my camera and sent it to the OIC of the army camp in Puthur with a note saying, “This from The Sunday Times of 25.05.06; arrest its editor if you can.”    

It was on the morning of the 11th instant at 10.00 a.m. I left for Jaffna to attend a wedding that was to take place at 10.a.m. on the 12th inst. On my way I had to visit some relatives in Valvetti [thurai].

At Kodikamam the driver turned towards Vadamarachchi and within two kilometers we were stopped by the army and directed to park in a side lane. There were a few vehicles already parked in that lane. The drivers of those vehicles did not know why they were directed into the lane. When I asked the soldier for the reason why we were diverted, he said that there was a bomb blast two kilometers from there and, until he got the OK signal, he was not supposed to allow any vehicle through.

I returned to the vehicle with the intention of canceling the Valvetti trip. I wanted to call Valvetty and inform them of the change of plan as I was expected for lunch by them. I borrowed the mobile phone from the driver and called Valvetty. I was told to go up to Meesalai and take the road to Puthur and from there to proceed towards Valvetty. This we did and it turned out to be the biggest mistake of my life.

As we approached Puthur we were stopped at a wayside checkpoint of the army. The time was 11.30 a.m. They just did a superficial check of the vehicle and we did not have any heavy luggage. I had only a backpack with a change for the night and a shirt and a dhoti for the wedding. As the checking was almost over and when we were about to leave, my ill luck fell on me.

One of the soldiers, on seeing my camera, wanted to go through the pictures on it. There were all sorts of pictures – family pictures, garden pictures and pictures taken at the Sencholai (home for the kids) on it and I happily gave it to him. After a few seconds, his face changed and took it to his senior who was seated inside the hut. He then called someone and there was a hive of activity going on and everyone was trying to have a look at it. Then one soldier came to me, put his rifle on my forehead and asked whether I took all the pictures on the camera and when I answered in the affirmative, he asked me why I took the photos of an LTTE training camp.

Women undergoing self-defense training, Vanni, May 2006

Women undergoing self-defense training (BBC, May 9, 2006)

I told him that those pictures were not from an LTTE training camp, but of the training of civilians for self-defense. I added that these pictures appear in the daily papers and on TV quite often and I found that there was no harm in taking those pictures. Also I said that, not only the LTTE, but also the army is training civilians for self-defense. To this he replied sharply, “Don’t talk about the army, but you tell me about your LTTE." I thought it would be unwise to reply to that and kept quiet. Then he said that he was going to take me to their camp nearby. Three of the soldiers got into our vehicle fully armed with T-56 rifles and ordered the driver to proceed as directed by them. At the camp ten spldiers came out to my vehicle and started asking all sorts of questions.       

Question: Do you know the LTTE people?  

Answer: I live in Kilinochchi and all those living in Vanni know the LTTE  

Q: Do you know them?  

A: Yes but not personally.  

Q: What do you mean?  

A: For example I know Mr. S.P.Thamilchelvan as head of the Political Wing, but I do not know him personally. I have heard him speaking in meetings. So do I know about Pottu Amman, Soosai,, etc. but I have never seen them.  

Q: So you attend the LTTE meetings?  

A: No I do not attend LTTE meetings, but I do attend, for example, opening ceremonies, human rights conventions, etc. where such leaders speak.  

Q: You have a Norwegian passport and what are you doing in Kilinochchi?   

A: I am not the only foreigner in Kilinochchi. There are hundreds of them there.

Q: You tell me what you are doing there?  

A: I am from Kilinochchi. When I come from London I stay there.  

Q: What do you do in London?  

A: I live there. (Now he is confused)  

Q: You have a Norwegian passport, and you do not live in Norway, but you live in London and also in Kilinochchi. Why?  

A: Why not?  

Q: You do not ask questions. I ask questions and you answer. Right? (Very sternly put)  

A: That was really not a question. What I meant was that there is nothing legally wrong by living in more than one place provided you have the visa from the respective countries. In Sri Lanka I have the residence visa for one year.   

Q: Three months back you went to London. Why did you come back after three weeks?  

A: My wife was sick, so I had to accompany her there.  

Q: Why did you not stay behind and look after your wife?  

A: I think this a personal matter yet, since you ask, I may say that she is capable of looking after herself.   

Q: What do you do in Kilinochchi?

A: I am in the process of building a house there.  

Q: Don’t you have a house in London?  

A: Yes I do.  

Q: Then why do you build a house in Kilinochchi?  

A: Because I cannot live in the London house when I am in Kilinochchi.  

Q: Don’t try to be smart with us.  

A: Sorry (I didn’t dare to say your question was silly)  

Q: When did you go to Norway?

A: In 1974.  

Q: Why did you go there?  

A: To work there. (another silly question)  

Q: Who helped you to go there?  

A: One Norwegian.  

Q: Where did you meet him?  

A: In a pub.  

Q: Pub? What Pub? What do you do there?  

A: We play Billiards and drink beer.  

Q: Do you drink a lot a lot of beer?  

A: I take a beer every day. Whether it is a lot, I do not know.  

Q: Do you like beer very much?  

A: No.  

Q: Then why do you drink it?  

A: Because I cannot get my favourite drink.  

Q: What is your favourite drink?  

A: Red wine.  

Q: Why don’t you drink red wine then?  

A: I can’t get it in Kilinochchi.      

He thought he was asking the questions, but he did not know that I was dragging him along. Then, one by one, several of the soldiers started asking the same silly questions over and over again. I did not find it difficult to answer them as none of them appeared intelligent to me. At times there will be an fight going on among them. One would say, "I am asking, you wait"; the other would say the same thing back at him. I had to intervene and ask them to put the questions one by one. But they never listened. Once, one of them sharply told me, “Look at my face and answer my question.” I said my problem is I do not know who is asking which question as so many of you are asking so many questions at the same time. The questioning at the base started at about 12.15 p.m. and it went on till 3.30 p.m.

I forgot to mention that they confiscated my wallet, camera with the charger, passport, the LTTE’s Residence Permit, my driver’s mobile phone and his vehicle’s switch key.       

I had my breakfast at 7.30 at home. They never offered even a cup of tea. I was supposed to go to Valvetty for lunch at 12.30. The time was nearly 4.00 p.m. I was terribly tired, hungry and thirsty. I kept asking whether I could make a call and inform them that I was getting delayed. This was denied. I even said that I would tell them that the vehicle had broken down. But the answer was “NO.” I never got to call.

Then another guy came with a file and a form and started filling it with my name, date, address, etc. He was writing something in Sinhalese while saying it loudly. Even though I speak some Sinhalese, yet I could not decipher what he was writing or saying. Finally he wanted me to sign. Now I became worried and a frankly a bit scared. I told them, “I cannot read Sinhalese, hence I cannot sign for something that I cannot understand. And what is it tell me.” He said it meant that I have received all my goods intact and that I was not scolded or beaten. I said that I would then write in Tamil all what you said and sign it. “Why can’t you believe us and Sinhalese is the official language?” I said, "According to the Sri Lankan constitution Tamil also has equal status. Hence, I have the right to write in Tamil." He said none of them could understand Tamil. Now we have a problem, I said, but I was prepared for a compromise. And that was I would write in English and then sign it. To this, he agreed and it was done accordingly.

Now they told me that I would be taken to the police station and be handed over to them. There was a policeman there and he accompanied us with his gun. But he was quite polite. Two more soldiers also got in with their rifles.       

Inside the vehicle I got my mobile and, with the policeman’s permission, I tried to ring Valvetty. But there was no balance left in the card. Certainly those fellows at the base must have used it up calling their families and friends.      

Atchuveli Police Station      

It was 4.30 p.m. when we reached the police station. The policeman who accompanied me said that we would be released to go soon. There was an Inspector of Police (IP), Mr.Sugathathasa, who was the officer in charge (OIC); his assistant was a sub-inspector (SI) called Vannasinghe. Both of them appeared very polite and courteous. Both of them addressed me either as 'Aiyah' or 'sir.' When they were about to begin questioning me, I asked whether I could call Valvetty to inform them of the situation and my whereabouts. The IP immediately summoned a constable to take me to their office and let me use their phone. When I returned, a cup of tea was awaiting me. That was the best cup of tea I have had recently, as I had neither eaten or drank anything since 7.30 a.m. Both of them went through the photos and appeared satisfied with my explanation.

Then the real interrogation started. Those two guys, unlike the morons at the army camp, were intelligent fellows. Their questions were focused to ascertain my dealings with the LTTE. I accepted that the LTTE cadres come to me now and then to get Tamil translations for materials that were in English. Most of their questions were sensible ones and concentrated to security risks.

Now the time has passed 6.30 p.m. The IP said that certain entries have to be made about my case in their books and ordered a sergeant to attend to it. The IP and the SI profusely thanked me for my cooperation and assured me that they have no suspicion on me and they are satisfied with my replies, which they said were frank and open. They even apologized for the inconvenience caused. I, too, thanked them back for their cordiality and hoped that I would be on my way very soon.

Before leaving me, the IP said that he would report the matter to his superiors and come back to me. Time passed and, at 7.30 p.m.. a Tamil constable, Mr.Suveekaran, came over with a register and said that he has to record my statement. He was extremely polite and apologized in advance to tell me, “Aiyah, they are going to keep you overnight. That is the order the IP has got. The IP tried his best to tell them that yours was a bona-fide case and there was no doubt or suspicion of any nature and that you are 74 years old. He has been asked to call a bit later." The recording of the statement was done in Tamil by Suveekaran. The IP came to me at 8.30 p.m. and said in a very melancholy tone; “Sir, I am afraid you would have to stay overnight and be presented to a magistrate on the following day. Once you have seen the magistrate, you do not have to come back here and you can be on your way to attend the wedding."       

I got bread and dhal for dinner. I was given a thin mattress and had to sleep on the floor. However, a mosquito coil was lit and put between me and the driver. I should mention, however, that the IP offered me to sleep inside their office, where there was a fan working. But I turned it down as the office was brightly lit and there were phone calls every two or three minutes. I did not have a wink of sleep the whole night. My worry was what the Magistrate was going to say the following day. Will I be acquitted and sent home or will I be sent on bail, which meant I should be reporting at the next date fixed by the magistrate or will I be remanded, which would mean I would be jailed for a few weeks?

In the morning I called a friend of mine, on the advice of the IP, as a standby to bail me out if it became necessary. Luckily, the Magistrate, a lady who listened to my presentation (I did not retain a lawyer), told the police that there was no incriminating evidence against me and asked whether the police had any objection to her releasing me. The police did not make any objections, hence she discharged the case and I was released at 12.00 noon.

After 25 hours of agony, anxiety, uncertainty, tension and fear, I was a free man. All these were due to the silly and idiotic action of some uneducated Buddhist chauvinistic elements in the army. No sooner I returned to Kilinochchi, I took a cutting of a picture from a paper similar to the one in my camera and sent it to the OIC of the army camp in Puthur with a note saying, “This from The Sunday Times of 25.05.06; arrest its editor if you can.”      

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