More Thrills than Skills – A Half-life in Journalism, Part 99

Over the next few weeks, is to publish, each weekday, extracts from the memoirs of Scottish war correspondent, Paul Harris. ‘More Thrills than Skills: A Half-life in Journalism’, is being scheduled for publication next year.

The Lanka Monthly Digest. article began……

‘I’m getting a bit worried about this State of Tamil Eelam business. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of small states. They encourage a bit of welcome diversity in a dull world. Small states are much more interesting than their larger neighbours. They tend to produce smashingly beautiful postage stamps, are notably emollient in the tax free trading department and are often good for getting your hands on an useful spare passport. All stuff I’ve been rather keen on in my peripatetic and dysfunctional existence.

‘So I’m watching with bated breath all this Tamil Eelam stuff. But it doesn’t look too promising to me. I mean, these LTTE chaps are just so serious. I can never take anyone seriously who takes themselves seriously, if you see what I mean. I don’t think the word, ‘fun’, is in the LTTE dictionary. I’m afraid there isn’t going to be much joy for those living in the two-thirds or so of the island of Sri Lanka who are going to have Velupillai Prabhakaran as their leader (President and Prime Minister rolled into one, we are advised by Chief Crony, Mr Balasingham).’

And continued, later:

‘The gates open. A squad of goons – men in civvies and birds in ominous black uniforms – stalk up the drive. All except one, that is. He’s on crutches so he’s not in the stalking business any longer. He’s a dude called Kokulan, LTTE security chief in charge of arrangements for Prabha’s press conference. They’ve pitched up to “search baggage and examine equipment”.

‘The operation lasted almost three hours. Cameras stripped down, minutely examined and themselves photographed. Photographic equipment weighed using a sensitive pair of scales, as was unexposed film and even a packet of biscuits in a search for plastic explosives. Serial numbers of all equipment taken and computers photographed. The operating systems checked out by a computer whizzkid. Me and my mate Bandula [Jayasekera] are very good humoured about all this. We keep up the jolly banter although our jokes seem to be falling a trifle flat.’

And there were more serious developments taking place in the country. In May, I wrote for Janes Intelligence Review about the de facto division of the country. In another article, I predicted the use of schoolchildren and other civilians in besieging and over-running bases of the security forces. Some of these things have now come to pass and what seemed so shocking at the time became received wisdom within five or six months.

I was asked to talk to MPs in a public room in parliament on May 9. In hindsight, that was a mistake. More than 50 opposition MPs attended from the PA, the Marxist-oriented JVP and the Muslim NUA.

That evening I went to an European Union Birthday Party in the Hilton Hotel. After a few gins, this fellow bounded up to me and announced, in the self-important way politicians do, that he had “exposed me as an M15 agent in parliament.”

I said I didn’t have a clue who he was and he looked decidedly put out. Then I told him: “The M15 in Britain is a motorway, not a security organisation. Anyway, it’s MI6 you will be meaning.”

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