In Sri Lanka
My mobile phone rings, dancing across the table in the dim light of my hotel room. The caller ID flashes the name of Gemunu Amarasinghe – a Colombo-based Associated Press photographer. I press the green button.
"Come now, there's a bomb that went off at Kolpity junction," says Gemunu on the other end.
I have been in Sri Lanka for less than 12 hours, and after a night of exhausting travel I am still drunk from lack of sleep. Nonetheless, I unpack my cameras and sling them over my shoulders. Out in the streets, I flag down a ubiquitous tuk-tuk with a wave of the hand. A quick negotiation, and we are off. The tuk-tuk weaves effortlessly past the Colombo afternoon traffic with horns blaring.
"Where you from, sir?" asked the driver – a standard question asked by almost all tuk-tuk drivers from whom I have hired a ride.
"Singapore," I answered nonchalantly, my mind distracted.
"Singapore very nice, no?" he said. Then almost reading my mind, he said, "Colombo always bomb. Too many Tiger cells here."
A steady downpour has begun adding to the misery of the afternoon heat. The wet monsoon season is not yet over. We arrive promptly at Kolpity junction to find that a solid wall of curious bystanders has formed at the site – each clutching umbrellas that together form a kaleidoscope of colors. A line of khaki-uniformed police officers with raincoats and assault rifles keeps them at bay.
I squeeze past the mass of humanity and enter the bomb site. An army jeep had crashed completely through a wall; splatters of blood coagulate on the upholstery and shattered windshield, its sides and back peppered with massive shrapnel damage. It looks like it has been blasted with a giant shotgun because the shrapnel pattern is almost neat – evidence that a claymore mine has been used. This was clearly an ambush.
The claymore mine was hidden in a parked tuk-tuk, and the trap was sprung when an army convoy escorting a Pakistani diplomat entered the kill zone. The diplomat escaped the assassination but four soldiers in the escorting jeep perished. The force of the explosion had wrapped some metal parts around an adjacent wrought iron gate. Across the road is the familiar spread pattern of claymore shrapnel splattered against a high wall; a nearby car also lies shattered and torched. A legion of police officers and forensics scientists swarm the now mangled tuk-tuk looking for clues.
The rain shows no sign of letting up. I hail another tuk-tuk taxi and return to the hotel to prepare for a trip to Trincomalee on the other side of the island. The city is only a few miles from the front lines and heavy fighting in the area has displaced tens of thousands of people. Surrounding towns have been turned into makeshift refugee camps; their numbers swell daily.
My mobile phone beeps with a text message; it is from my good friend and fellow journalist Jason Gutierrez from AFP – Norm, heavy artillery reported in Trinco. Keep head down, bud.
© Norman Ng
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