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A Navy man who survived the attack on the gunboat Ranaviru off Mullativu by swimming bare bodied in the rough seas for four hours, has come back to tell a tale, not only of tragedy, but also of bravery.
Banu Peiris, one of the four survivors of the LTTE's suicide attack on the Navy gunboat told us how his captain had stood on the burning deck and fought till the end in the noblest traditions of the Navy. The captain and 31 sailors died in the battle.
When we visited the home of 23-year-old Banu Peiris at Hanwella, he looked quiet and withdrawn - signs of the trauma he underwent in the battle. Anyway he told us the story:
In the afternoon of July 17 we left for Kankasanthurai for a ten-day mission. There were four Dora ships following us. About 400 metres from the Mullaitivu beach, we spotted four Tiger boats and fired at them. Within moments about thirty other Tiger boats appeared. A fierce battle ensued. Suicide boats kept hitting us. Some of our men were killed, others injured. One of the guns packed up. With determination we fought the suicide bombers, though our numbers were now down to about 10. We fought till the end. Finally our captain who carried out his duties to the end yelled at us to jump into the sea. 'Okkoma ivarai' were his last words.
"I knew it was the end. I jumped into the sea with the others, within seconds the gunboat burst into flames with the captian on the deck.
"It was around 3.30 pm when I jumped into the sea. I flung off my 'T' shirt because the Tigers were hovering around the gunboat. They fired at us. But we dived under water and survived. This went on for about half an hour. The sea was very rough and I was practically being dragged by the waves. As we were near the land, I wanted to get there, but the Tiger boats were around. I decided it would be better to drown than to fall into the hands of the LTTE. So I swam toward the sea. No one would imagine a person to survive in the rough sea for four hours, but for me the training I received from my younger days swimming in the Kelani river helped me. I was caught in a cross fire for some time.
"By 6.15, when I had given up all hopes of being rescued, I spotted a ship at some distance. This gave me some strength and I swam towards the ship. I was able only to raise a hand. Once they spotted me, they drew the ship close and wanted me to identify myself. Fortunately a colleague of mine was in the ship. On this Dora ship I heard that three others had survived."
Banu Peiris who had encountered the Sea Tigers at close range also spoke of the suicide boats. "It was a very small boat, somewhat like a racing boat. Only two travel in them. They were dressed in full black, and were well built. The bomb was placed at the front of the boat. The most difficult thing is to target at them as they come in zig zag form. No matter what weapons you have, it's difficult to tackle a suicide boat."
At the Peiris' home in Hanwella, Banus' mother is now relieved. But still in shock after days of tension over the fate of her son.
"Although my younger son knew about the incident, he never told me anything. I got to know through the news bulletin. I was like a mad woman. Even now I cannot imagine how I lived through those few days. After his survival was confirmed, I refused to believe anyone until I saw my son," she said.
Today relatives and friends throng to their home to hear Banu's story. But he also faces the heartbreaking task of telling some families who come, that their loved ones would never return.
They met for the first time in the train. Both of them also departed together in the same train with just a few more months for their wedding.
The couple were among the many who were caught up in the Dehiwala twin bomb blast in the train.
Laksan Dias Nagahawatte (28) and his fiancee, Inoka Perera (23) were travelling home together as usual on that fateful Wednesday when the bomb ended their beautiful romance. Laksan lived and worked in Dehiwala, but almost daily he would go to the Bambalapitiya railway station and accompany Inoka home to Wadduwa. Inoka worked as a stenographer at a firm in Narahenpita. She was also a sportswoman and a musician.
On Friday, Wadduwa mourned for Inoka and sixteen others from the area who died in the blast. The victims included Municipal chief clerk, Leelananda Chandrasiri (53) a father of two.
The editor of tabloid Satana, Rohana Kumara, was arrested this week on charges of putting up posters demanding the resignation of Deputy Defence Minister Anuruddha Ratwatte for the Mullaitivu debacle.
President Kumaratunga's warning last Wednesday that subsidies might have to be cut, has caused a mixed reaction among the people. The Sunday Times spoke to people from different walks of life. Their views:
Neville Udawatta of Piliyandala said, it's not the question of the president calling for a cut in subsidies. Even if the subsidies are cut and the people have to sacrifice a little for the sake of the country, will the war be over after that. That is what we ask. The people might sacrifice but they expect Government leaders to set an example. Austerity was earlier introduced by Dudley Senanayake and the people cooperated then. But unless an example is set at the top, it won't be accepted by the people," he said.
Mrs. Weerasekera of Dehiwala, a housewife said, if the subsidy on flour is cut the price of bread will go up. This will be a big burden to the poor. A majority of us voted for the PA when it promised to bring down the price of bread. No we are back to square one."
State and private sector employees said they were finding it difficult to make ends meet and cut on subsidies would throw them into a crisis. "Everything is going up. Recently bus fares also were increased. If subsidies are cut only God knows where this is going to end up, one of the employee said.
One consumer recalled what the PA has said in its election manifesto. "A special subsidies programme will be implemented to safeguard the poorest sections of society from hardships that they will encounter in the initial stages of the free and competitive economy." Instead of giving handouts which are not in keeping with human dignity, the PA will introduce a carefully conceived and viable system of subsidies which will enhance the productivity of the poor. The fertilizer subsidy will be reintroduced at a substantial level. We will take steps to provide at specially subsidised prizes, fishing boats equipped with new technology engines, fishing nets, implements and fuel. A special scheme will be worked out to provide animal feed and quality farm animals at subsidised prices"
The Sunday Times in its July 7 issue under the heading "Report proposes tough economic measures" said that elimination of commodity, wheat and fertilizer subsidies and stopping of massive recruitment of untrained graduate teachers have been recommended by a team of Lankan and World Bank economic experts.
More than 5000 policemen have been deployed for security for the Kandy Esala Perahera with body searches being carried out on all entering the town. Bags of perahera watchers are also searched.
There was a bomb scare at the junior section of a leading girls school by the Kandy lake. The police conducted a search but drew a blank. The police even diverted traffic during their search.
Meanwhile, the Basnayake Nilames of the four main devales taking part in the pageant along with Basnayake Nilames of Pitisara devale did not take part in the five kumbal peraheras. They were expected to take part in the first Randoli perahera which is the most colourful of the pageant commencing on Friday. Also missing were the Kavadi dancers who dance in the Kataragama devale procession. Kavadi dancers have been adding colour to the peraheras. They too were expected to take part in the perahera from the commencement of the Randoli perahera.
The festival will reach its climax when the Maha perahera parades the streets on Tuesday, Esala full moon day taking the longest route. This will be followed by the water-cutting ceremony at the old ferry site at Getambe. A section of the Maligawa perahera will proceed to the Gedige Vihare where the Maligawa Relic casket will be deposited for the performance of religious rituals.
The festival will end with the day perahera on Wednesday July 31 after which the Temple chieftains headed by Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyeratne will call on President Chandrika Kumaratunga at the Presidential pavilion in Kandy and inform her that the Esala Festival 1996 was successfully concluded.
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