As the dead of the Kebethigollawa tragedy were laid
to rest in a mass grave amidst the wails of loved ones, we can only
The CTB bus, packed with children, women and men
had travelled 25 minutes into its 45 minute- long journey from Talgaswewa
to Kebethigollawa last Thursday morning, when it was hit by a terrorist
mine in one of the cruelest acts perpetrated against innocent civilians
since the 2002 ceasefire agreement.
It was not a routine ride, for some on board,
who were heading for the funeral of a homeguard killed in Vavuniya,
the previous day in an LTTE attack. For others it was a routine
journey with many women and children heading to the Kebethigollawa
government hospital to attend the clinic. Others were headed to
the main town to attend to their daily chores.
villagers had requested a large bus because many of them wanted
to attend the funeral and it was packed well beyond its full capacity,
with more than 160 passengers in it.
The bus was passing Vihara Halmillewa when it
was hit by two explosions within seconds of each other. More than
58 of the passengers lay dead and scores of others injured. Eight
more died in hospitals bringing the death toll to 66. Eight of the
seriously injured were airlifted to Colombo. Among the dead were
15 children, 17 homeguards , 23 women and two Buddhist monks.
An army route-clearing patrol was reported to
be on the road the same time the bus was travelling. The bus is
reported to have overtaken the army patrol. It was these soldiers
who rushed to the scene to rescue the passengers and take them to
hospital with the help of villagers.
The attack was the biggest against a civilian
target, since the Dehiwela train blast that claimed about 70 people
in July 1996. The government, other political parties and several
foreign nations were quick to condemn the attack
|Terror spares no one
President Mahinda Rajapaksa along with the North
Central Province Chief Minister Bertie Premalal Dissanayake, Defence
Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his Secretary Lalith weeratunga
visited the Kebethigollawa hospital and the Anuradhapura hospital
later in the day to condole with the families and to see that assistance
was provided to the affected families. The President assured the
villagers that they would be provided with more security. He also
reaffirmed the government’s commitment to usher in peace.
“Whatever savage and barbaric acts the LTTE may indulge in,
we will never allow our search for peace to be derailed,”
the President said in a condolence message.
Government defence spokesman Minister Keheliya
Rambukwella said the attack carried all the hallmarks of the LTTE.
However, within hours of the incident, the LTTE
denied any responsibility. Condemning the attack, the LTTE called
it "senseless violence used for political ends.” The
group also said acts targeting civilians cannot be justified under
The LTTE also charged that Sri Lankan armed elements
who have intensified their attacks on Tamil civilians for political
ends for having begun targeting Sinhala civilians with the aim of
blaming it on the Tigers.
|Final resting place: A mass grave
But their claims appeared to have been ignored
by both local and international organizations as well as foreign
The villagers who were the first eye witnesses
to the gruesome sight of bodies strewn all over the place soon overcame
their shock and horror and started to rush the injured patients
in tractors to the Kebethigollawa Base hospital. Soon Security force
and police personnel arrived on the scene and began transporting
more of the injured along with the dead to the Kebethigollawa hospital.
With the news of the explosion reaching the villagers,
distraught family members rushed to the two hospitals to see if
their loved ones were among the dead and injured.
It was inconsolable grief for many who found bodies
of their relatives laid out in rows
in the make shift mortuary at the Kebethigollawa
Some of the more fortunate ones found their loved
ones injured but alive.
The government soon made arrangements to fly in
journalists from Colombo to the scene of the blast. Many of them
broke down. It was especially difficult to see young survivors crying
out for their dead mothers and mothers wailing near the bodies of
their dead children.
|A silent salute Pix by Dinuka Liyanawatte
and Berty Mendis
Thirteen year old Palitha Kumara was one of the
lucky ones who survived the attack, but he lost his mother Somawathie.
Palitha was travelling with his parents and two sisters to visit
his uncle in Kachchakodiya, he said.
Describing the terrible moment, Palitha said as
the explosion hit the bus, the driver along with many others fell
unconscious. The bus then went off the road and came to a halt on
hitting a culvert.
Palitha along with another friend had managed
to jump out of the bus and hid themselves out of fear, for a while
before running to get help. They were later taken to hospital to
Bandula Gamini of Handagala, who was injured in
the blast, said he had boarded the bus along with his wife, mother-in-law,
brother in law and son around 7.15 am. “I only remember hearing
a deafening noise. When I got my senses back, a baby was crying
and there was mayhem all round. Fortunately my wife and child had
survived but brother in law died,” said Bandula breaking down.
Home guard N.Dissanayake said that he was on his
way to his nephew’s funeral, a fellow home guard killed by
terrorists. “There were many homeguards and their relatives,
going for the funeral. We got in at Yakawewa.
There were about 75 passengers who got in with
us. As the bus reached Kongolla there was a loud sound. I was on
the footboard and when the bus turned over I was pinned under it
but I managed to escape,” he said.
After the incident many villagers have started
to leave the area in fear of further attacks. Piyal Karunatilleke
a staff member of Kebethigollawa Maha Vidyalaya said the people
had been living in fear for some time. “They were afraid there
was inadequate security, but the police said we had nothing to worry.
Now this tragedy occurred despite several police and army posts,”
The government is providing cooked food for the
affected families and it has assured the people that they would
be provided with dry rations for a month while security has been
beefed up. But the villagers wonder for how long would they be provided
with extra security. Sixty seven of the passengers on the bus had
been from the village of Yakawewa. A two month old infant lost his
mother in the explosion. A young man lost eight members of his family
and in some instances the whole family was wiped out.
As the dead were laid to rest in a mass grave,
the sounds of wailing of their loved ones filled the air.
Death toll now 66
The death toll in the Kebethigollawa claymore
mine attack has risen to 66, with two more deaths reported
from the Colombo National Hospital, in the past two days.
Of the nine injured people admitted to the
Colombo National Hospital, one died on Friday and the other
last morning. They were identified as Premawathi (50) and
Senanayake (35), Hospital sources said. Meanwhile, at the
Anuradhapura General Hospital, 65 patients are still receiving
Hospital Director Dr. Lakshman Gamlath said,
of the 84 patients admitted, those with head injuries were
transferred to the Colombo National Hospital. He said, in
the aftermath of the blast, 43 patients had to undergo immediate
surgery and they were recovering.
Those who were admitted to Kebethigollawa
Hospital have been discharged or transferred to other hospitals,
The Sunday Times learns.