Colombo, Peace and Conflict

Air raids and airports

I had just posted The psychopathology of the LTTE suicide bombers here when the first JNW SMS news alert came of an LTTE air raid in the environs of Colombo. A friend called in to say that air defences had been activated and my wife called to ask whether I had electricity. All of Colombo was in darkness, but beyond the Nugegoda junction there was power.

Packed hurriedly and gave a call to Airport Express to advance my pick up time by an hour.

Gave the following update to a friend at around 11pm.

I am typing this on my Blackberry en route to the airport. Around an hour ago, the LTTE launched an air raid on Colombo. One bomb suspected to be dropped in the heart of the city. No casualties reported yet. One plane shot down near international airport and body of pilot found. Flights grounded. Hopefully will be able to make it off the ground. For a while, because of hyper alert civ defence force cadre on the road, we ordered to shut off our lights and drove in utter darkness on the main road, lit only in red by brake lights. Surreal.

Tracer gun fire lights up the sky sporadically. Street lights coming on, which means situ is now under control.

Armoured Personnel Carriers of Army on road. Traffic very heavy – possible road blocks / closures up ahead. Tata flatbed pick-ups with turret machine guns line the streets, their handlers all seem to be glued to mobile phones and smiling.

One ambulance passes by.

I guess the ‘last’ airstrip wasn’t the last after all?

SAJA picked up on my report and started to upload them to a web page dedicated to news of the attack.

Update at 11.16pm

Still going towards airport. Touching high speeds now. Roads empty. Odd person looks up at sky. Police lolling, gun flailing aimlessly. Not a policeman in sight when the air defences were still on and we were driving in darkness. Guess they are scared too. No check points yet. Situation calm from what I can see.

Life goes on.

Update at 11.24pm

Hit road block. No way through. Must be close to where first plane was shot down. Don’t really know what to do – whether to press on or turn back. Will wait a while. Ambulance accompanied by army escort passes by. Voice telephony on the blink. Vehicles turning back now. No horns – strange. 

Update at 11.34pm

Traffic moving slowly. Cops out. A bit chaotic and confused. Maybe part of LTTE plane in the middle of the road ahead. Three lanes merging to two only to expand to four lanes and then down to one – you get the picture. Just turning into airport now. All seems quiet on approach road.

Update at 11.38pm
Airport approach road blocked closer to airport. Must be extra security checks. Armed personnel present more than usual, as expected. No chaos or panic. Pedestrians walking around.

Update at 12.19am (21st February)

In airport. Air con on low. Or maybe people just running high temperatures. Absolute chaos to get in. No vehicles allowed near departure gates. Only a shuttle bus. Crowded. Sweaty. Confused. Smile, speak in Sinhala and engage in friendly chatter with Navy guard. Allows me through without checking my luggage. Hear shouting to check a Tamil’s luggage. “Oka demalek – balapan machang hodata” (he’s a Tamil – examine him). I smile, get on bus, smile my way through to lounge, where ‘ayubowan’ and a smile are a welcome break from the madness outside. 

It’s 1.10am as I type this. The SriLankan flight from London has been diverted to India, which means that I will be here for two to three hours more. Everything’s quiet in the lounge, though I imagine the entrance must be a complete mad-house now. Minister’s on the telly get a crowd, that soon dissipates to cold canapés and coffee.

Both airplanes shot down, we return to our private vigils.