January 26, turned out to be memorable for Sarath - - a Policeman attached to the National Child Protection Authority. But he did not have the slightest idea about it.
Thursday morning, the LTTE cadres who held him captive, in Killinochchi prison for 139 days, got him into a van. Few miles down their way towards Kilinochchi courts, a rebel told him ?you are free now?.
K.A.D. Sarath, 40, a Police Constable was among three policemen who travelled to Murunkan, on September 9, to arrest a foreigner suspected of molesting children, but ended up in the hands of the Tigers.
Sitting in his uncle`s residence, a day later he walked out into freedom, Sarath recalled how they had a daily dose of news. ?Some Sinhala national daily newspapers were available in the LTTE prison? he said cradling his five year old son in his sarong. ?We even had a pocket size radio given by the LTTE?.
They read in the papers the worsening security situation in the country. But they also heard that there was a breakthrough in the peace bid hence something good will come out soon.
Thursday morning, newspapers splashed that of the three cops in the LTTE custody, one would be released. Amazingly though, he missed reading newspapers that day, since he left early for courts.
The NCPA investigators comprised its civil coordinator, a Sub Inspector, two policemen, two women police officers and two Catholic priests from Negombo and Mannar. Apart from the three policemen, the rest were released the next day morning.
The team was detained by the LTTE, on grounds that they allegedly entered an uncleared area of the LTTE. But Sarath defies it.
? Murunkan was not an LTTE controlled area. Then, there should have been an LTTE check point before we reached there? he argued. ?If so what`s the point in having Omanthai point as the area demarcating the government held and the Tiger held areas?.
Recalling that fateful September 9, 2005, Sarath went about their undercover operation heading towards the North hunting for the child molester.
Manisekaram Rasalingam, whom Sarath called as ? Mani Aiya? - - the NCPA driver who was released by the LTTE the next day, too happened to visit Sarath, in the middle of the interview.
So the duo began the story.
They left Colombo, on September 9, early morning to Murunkan in Silvathurai and had lunch on their way close to Murunkan.
Sarath did the job tactfully. He casually told the ?Mudalali? at the restaurant he came to meet a friend - - a foreigner from Negombo. Mudalali was quick to respond saying that he saw a foreigner passing by in a trishaw, a while ago. ?So we started tracing the guy.?
After getting hold of the trishaw driver, the team tracked him down but was cautious enough not to give the slightest hint that they were policemen.
? We saw him walking towards us with a group of children. We casually introduced ourselves. Shook hands and got to know his whereabouts?.
The plan was in place to get hold of the foreigner in the evening. But to be on the safe side, a priest advised that we should go with someone from the area as well and stopped the van at a place in Murunkan to take a neighbour in the area with us. ?It is then we got caught to the LTTE?, he said.
? Apart for the three constables, we were released, the next day after interrogation? , Manisekaran butted in.
Escorted by the LTTEers, we landed in Pesalai, after a four hour boat ride. They were bundled into a van and again after a three hour boat ride, they arrived in Killinochchi prison and were produced in ?Tiger Courts?.
?Every court day, we thought we would be free?, Sarath said.
Inside the prison, they had their usual rice and curries for meals and they were not harassed by any means, Sarath said.
Asked whether the surge of violence by the suspected LTTE made them feel even more insecure, Sarath said that they were confidant that we did not have any hidden agenda in visiting the area. ?Our hands were clean. I have two kids and I did this for the sake of some children. So we knew we would be released?.
Down with high blood pressure Sarath sought medical assistance four times and appealed many times that he be released.
While in prison, there was no interaction whatsoever with the LTTE cadres. There was an Tiger OIC attached to the prison who could speak Sinhala and that was all they had in terms of outside world interaction.
He reminded with gratitude a list of names. Among them were the ICRC, SLMM, Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse, the President, UNICEF and the former heads of the NCPA who helped to get him released. He appealed to those responsible to get the other two officers released as soon as possible.