Monday, October 20, 2014

A Dark Night was Lit-up into Further Darkness

There was a time when Sri Lankans went to sleep each night, not knowing what startling news would wake them up. It was not a time a few generations ago. On the contrary, it was a time most of us still vividly remember.

One such day was October 20, 1995. It was a dark day in the history of Sri Lanka. The dark sky lit up, taking the country to further darkness. It was the day on which the LTTE launched a sensational attack on the Kolonnawa petroleum refinery in the suburbs of Colombo.

For the LTTE, night or day did not matter. But Sri Lankans had been shocked by several incidents which had taken place at night, and were fearful of each and every night. People were fearful of the day also. They feared the man or woman who might be standing near them, for him or her could have been a suicide bomber. The LTTE tactic of instilling terror was succeeding.

In October 1994, a year before Kolonnawa, the United National Party presidential candidate Gamini Dissanayake and many others including several other leaders of the party were slain by a female suicide bomber. At the time, the LTTE was in a ceasefire with the government. In April 1995, exactly six months after Dissanayake was assassinated, the LTTE broke the ceasefire with a treacherous night time attack on two Navy gun boats in Trincomalee Bay. Exactly six months after that, a night time attack on Kolonnawa refinery shocked the entire nation.

The Sri Lankan Armed Forces had launched Operation Riviresa to liberate Jaffna from the LTTE tyranny only a few days back. Kolonnawa attack seemed to be the answer the LTTE gave the government.

It was early hours of the day. Those who had gone to sleep on the 19th, woke up much earlier than they wanted, hearing the shocking news. Those who lived in and near Kolonnawa woke up even before, hearing the explosions. As a child, I remember seeing the night sky illuminated by the orange color of the flames generated by the burning oil. Thick black smoke was emitted. Later in the day, rains brought down the black substance to our gardens. It was a sad realization of the dark future which lay ahead.

The LTTE had embarked on a deliberate campaign of economic terrorism. In just three months, it was to launch a staggering day time attack on the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in the economic heartland of the country in Colombo. The LTTE had chosen busy office hours to cause the maximum damage to human lives as well. Dozens died; more than a thousand injured. Dozens lost their eyesight. That day, Colombo Fort was in utter chaos. The attacks on Kolonnawa and the Central Bank were staggering blows on Sri Lanka’s economy.

The LTTE would continue its ruthless campaign which they called a “war of liberation” with no regard whatsoever for human lives. The LTTE created fear and managed to thrive in it. People were pessimistic of the ability of the government to militarily defeat the LTTE due to its strength and ruthlessness.

However, the LTTE was finally defeated militarily in 2009. Five years have passed and the country is rebuilding. The process may have its shortcomings and it is vital to correct them. Also, it is important to remember the past so that no one forgets how it is to be in the middle of a war.

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