Colombo Diary: Day 2

1. As National Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon choppered it from the airport to the President’s Estate, I was speaking to Foreign Secretary Dr Palitha Kohona, an eloquent diplomat every bit the counterpart to our own. There’s a sharp aftertaste of irritation about the visit, it turns out, though they would never let you know it. On camera, they’ll tell you about the special relationship that Colombo shares with New Delhi, and how the visit is simply a perpetuation of that. Talk to officials off camera, and they’re pretty loquacious about how the visit is clearly an imperative enslaved to internal political pressures that the Indian government doesn’t quite know how to address. For what it’s worth, the NSA and FS are only in Colombo for a day. And officials only laugh at India’s recommendation for a cessation of hostilities. As a senior official put it, “It is like telling George Bush Sr. to intervene and save Saddam from the hangman.”

2. Reports emerging today that surrendered LTTE media coordinator Daya Master has begun to sing to his interrogators have introduced an inevitable Clancy-style dimension to the Prabhakaran masterplan. Daya apparently said that the Tiger-in-Chief planned to sink into the depths of the Indian Ocean off Mullaitivu in a submarine, and hope his periscope clears the keels of about eighteen Sri Lankan Navy patrol vessels quietly watching. A Navy officer who I bumped into during lunch in Colombo’s high-security zone joked that if Prabhakaran did indeed choose to make his escape in a sub, he’d better have copies of the new hydrographic charts which were released a few months ago. Reason: post-tsunami 2004, the depth changes on Sri Lanka’s east coast have been the most dramatic of any other country affected by the superwave. In some parts, it is understood that depths have increased – or more dangerously, decreased – by as much as four metres. Doesn’t seem like much. Except, as the officer explained, when you’re in a sub that probably isn’t armed with an accurate depth indicator, four metres too shallow could give the word “Sea Tiger” a whole new meaning. Somehow, that doesn’t really seem the way Prabhakaran would want to go.

3. For anyone who hasn’t been to Colombo before, the level of security in the city is the most I have ever encountered. It’s more than Srinagar. More than any town you could care to name in the North East. You can't move without bumping into an AK-toting guard. In the short drive from my hotel to the commercial centres on Galle Road this morning, our vehicle was stopped seven times. Three times out of those seven, our vehicle was checked. I mean really checked. I’ve had camera equipment checked before in a lot of high-security zones, but nothing comes even close to the way TV paraphernalia is scrutinized here. Not even close. Outside the splendid building that houses the President’s Secretariat, I observed, half in admiration, at the way the rubber nubs on all three legs of my camera tripod were unscrewed, so that the security people could insert a probing wire into the recesses of the three metal tubes. This is after they X-rayed all the equipment. They made us open our camera and play the tape inside it for three full minutes. Not a few seconds as is customary. And three minutes is a helluva long time when your stuffed into a tiny cabin with three men hell bent on recovering even the tiniest sliver of explosive from about 80 kilograms of broadcast gear. My worst fear was that they would ask us to dismantle the camera itself, and that we would have to potentially wreck something that we’d hired for a good sum of money. Thankfully the good chaps didn't. Best part -- after they've confirmed you're clean, they clear you through with a big smile.

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