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Housing Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, injured in a suicide bomb attack in Jaffna on Thursday, has vowed he will go back to the war-torn city help rebuilding it.
What began as a happy occasion with the massive reconstruction and rehabilitation programme in Jaffna getting underway, ended in nightmare for many when a woman suicide bomber tried to assassinate the Housing, Construction and Public Utilities Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, killing more than 20 people and leaving at least 50 others wounded, on Thursday.
The Ministerial entourage had left Colombo by air at about 7.45 a.m. on Thursday. About 9 a.m. they reached Palaly where they were met by Northern Commanding Officer Srilal Weerasuriya.
After a quick breakfast, the group had a short discussion on the "Reconstruction of the Jaffna" town. Later they proceeded to the "Naga Viharaya" for a religious ceremony. Thereafter, they went to the Holy Family Convent in Jaffna where the Minister participated in a free book distribution ceremony. According to the Minister, there were about 32 officials from some of the leading schools in Jaffna at this ceremony. The visiting group was warmly welcomed and among the officials present at the ceremony wa s Government Agent Chelliah C. Pathmandan.
The Minister said the government wanted to assist the people of Jaffna, and had also made arrangements to obtain building materials from India. "I also spoke about the devolution package and the peace efforts of the president. The majority of the people were very cordial and thereafter we proceeded to the Building Materials Corporation branch in Jaffna. About Rs. 3 million worth of goods were sold in a matter of minutes", the Minister told newsmen on Friday recalling the events before the suicide bomb at tack.
The minister said he inspected the stores and then got into his pajero to attend a meeting of officers who were in charge of rehabilitation work at the Jaffna Kachcheri. The vehicle was driven by Brig. Hamangoda while the Minister sat alongside the brigadier Mr. Godamuna and the Minister's security officer, Bandara were at the rear.
Meanwhile, an army commando has seen a woman (about 35 years) coming towards the Pajero, dressed in a white blouse and with two bags in her hand. As she was heading towards the Minister's vehicle, the Army Commando blocked the way. This was followed by a blast.
The Minister recalled that he saw Brig. Hamangoda's head fall onto a side. "There was more gunfire and I realized that I was bleeding from my left ear. The other two persons in the pajero were also injured. I got into a double cab and went to the Palaly hospital. I left for Colombo on one of the last flights at 7.00 p.m.", he said.
The Minister said this was a clear indication that the LTTE did not want Jaffna to be re-developed. Isolated incidents such as this would occur but it would not hinder the development programme. I will certainly continue going to Jaffna and this incident has not demoralised me in anyway," he said.
Winning the hearts and minds of the Jaffna civilians was Major General Ananda Hamangoda's only goal. And he paid the price on Thursday in Jaffna for the goodwill he had brought about in the peninsula.
Maj. Gen. Hamangoda, the most senior army officer caught in last week's suicide bomb attack had firmly believed that no one would harm him, as he had been able to build a strong bond between the people and the troops.
But unfortunately, among the friendly civilians there had been enemies. Maj. Gen. Hamangoda, it is believed, had died on the spot. His body was brought to Colombo along with the others killed in the blast.
When 'The Sunday Times' visited his home at Panagoda, his grieving wife Indrani and three children were seen embracing the body.
The Maj. Gen. had been in Colombo that weekend and since the minister was scheduled to visit Jaffna had left the previous day.
Mr. Sarath Hamangoda, the brother, said that he was to get back to Colombo the same day.
"Since his wife was not well Ananda took leave for a few days. She was warded at the Army Hospital. With the Minister's visit he had to be there, so he left on Tuesday, but had promised his wife he would be returning the following day," he said.
According to Mr. Hamangoda his brother had constantly said that Jaffna was no longer dangerous and that the people were innocent. "Even when I met him a few days back he kept saying the same thing. He used to say how he used to have meetings with the people to explain to them the situation. He had immense faith in them. But unfortunately some had not felt the same way," he said.
The family has accepted that the suicide attacker had been targeting the General and no one else. "It's natural that the LTTE would not have liked my brother's attachment to the civilians.
Breaking the news to his wife Indrani who was warded at the Army hospital had been the worse. "It had been Brigadier Sarath Munasinghe who had first got the news. He had immediately visited Ms. Hamangoda. She had been shocked to see him since hardly anyone knew that she was there. She had asked how he knew she was in hospital. The Brigadier had said that her husband had spoken to him. Not knowing whether she was fit enough to hear the news the brigadier had asked her doctor.
"The doctor had said it was okay for her to go home. But Indrani had insisted that she waits until her husband comes in the evening to go home. It was then that Brigadier Munasinghe had explained that he had met with an accident" explained Sarath Hamangoda.
The 46-year-old Maj. General's body was taken to Kurunegala, his hometown on Saturday. The funeral will take place to day at the Welegedera Stadium.
At 1.30 p.m. July 5 Clotilda Dias had unconciously started praying seated by the phone, not knowing that in a few seconds she would receive news of her husband's death.
It was only a month since retired SSP Carlyle Dias took up a post in the Northern Province Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority in Jaffna, despite objections from his family, believing it was his duty to help the Tamil people who had suffered immensely.
"The first time the phone rang the line was not clear. I heard a name being mentioned. I thought it was a nuisance call. But the second time it was clear and an army officer known to the family who is also with my husband wanted to speak to my brother. When I asked him where he was calling from he said he was in Jaffna.
He said he had a message to convey to him. When I asked what the message was he was reluctant to talk. Something told me my husband was in danger. I screamed over the phone asking him what was wrong. I did not get an answer for some time, but when I asked him whether he was dead he said yes said the grieving widow.
SSP Dias who retired from Police service in 1990 had joined the Ministry of Housing after a few years.
Although the family had not been too happy with SSP Dias's appointment he had confided in his brother-in-law a few weeks earlier that he was willing to die for the people. "He said that the satisfaction he received in helping the people was beyond words. He knew that the family members especially his wife was very worried about his stay but said that no one would understand how happy he felt once he speaks and helps the people," said Mr. Aartyal.
Since SSP Dias's two sons are in the USA funeral arrangements had not been made even by Friday. "I want my son here to say good-bye to their father, we have already informed them but no definite date was given" said Clotilda Dias.
All arrangements have been finalized for the three-day visit of the reigning Miss World, Jacqueline Aguilera which begins this Friday.
Miss World's visit is organized by the Rotary Clubs of Colombo East and West and exclusively sponsored by the E. A. P. Edirisinghe Group of Companies. Last year the Rotary Club of Colombo East arranged for the then Miss World Aishwarya Rai to grace the installation of their 10th president Krish Rajendra. Her visit helped raise Rs. 2 million for the club's community service projects. The club spent around Rs. 7 million on its service projects during the past year, assisting orphanages around the country, helping the disabled soldiers and also on the Sevana Sarana Foster Parent Scheme which had over 270 new sponsors last year.
This year too the Venezuelan Miss World will attend the installation dinner of the 11th president of Rotary East, Haniffa Mohamed as well as the installation of the new president of Rotary West, Janaka Edirisinghe on Saturday and Sunday.
Miss World will also support the anti-drug campaign carried out by the Sri Lanka Anti-Narcotics Association (SLANA) by flagging off the National Health Run next Sunday at the Galle Face Green.
Lanka Oberoi, the official host hotel, AirLanka, the official airline and BMW, the official vehicle in which she will travel, have also helped in supporting her visit along with the official product sponsors Nestomalt, Pizza Hut, Araliya Impex, Dialog, Bubble, Churpi Chip, Edna, Ponds and Ostam. Swarnamahal, the official jeweler will introduce a 'Venezuelan Collection' to mark Miss World's visit of diamond and ruby jewelry.Continue to the News/Comment page 2 - LSSP calls for urgent reorganization of public bus services, Lecture on South Asian security, Death of an Officer, Kolonnawa mess: no action taken, Baby Unit Closed, Donors attach strings, Don't dictate terms to me, says Fowzie, Analysts fly to Jaffna, PM visits Sai Baba under tight security, Power plans to face crisis
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