A Ganesh Nadar in Colombo
It was quarter to five in the evening. There were no fans. The air was still. It was as if Nature had paused to listen. There was tension in the air and the old man addressing us only made matters worse.
"Our cadres are armed," he said. "The security of our national leader is important. Do not do anything to cause tension, which will lead to panic. Take your positions now and do not move. Please cooperate."
At 1706 hours he strode in, took in the surroundings and sat down. He was wearing a grey safari suit, the fit emphasising his built.
The journalists stared. For me it was the climax of my career. I was face-to-face with Vellupillai Prabhakaran, creator of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, one of the most feared terrorist outfits in the world. The man who introduced the suicide bomber into our lives.
A Western journalist asked: "Will peace [talks] mean that there will be no more suicide bombers?"
When the LTTE leader's chief aide, Anton Balasingham, tried to reply he was cut short by the journalist. "Let Mr Prabhakaran reply, he is the world's best exponent of this art."
He smiled. He laughed. He replied slowly, softly, firmly, but never lost his cool despite the uncomfortable questions. He consulted Balasingham before answering any question.
There was this tall woman on stage who took notes throughout the conference. I thought she was representing the Norwegian government -- the official mediator between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan government. But no. She was Balasingham's wife, Adele. An Australian nurse before she married the LTTE ideologue and joined the Cause.
Then there were three tall men wearing dark glasses. They were the only people in that open-air hall who never looked at Prabhakaran. Their gaze never left us.
Men armed with machine guns surrounded the hall.
All questions regarding the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and countless other killings were shrugged off. Prabhakaran wanted to forgive and forget everything.
As time progressed the air became light. The mood wasn't so scary anymore. But that was if you didn't look around. And if there were 250 journalists in the hall, there were the same number of guards keeping an eye on them.
The press conference lasted 2 hours and 24 minutes -- the longest most of us have attended. When it was over, he left in a flourish. The doors remained closed for 15 minutes after his departure. We did not know from where he came. We did not know where he went. Prabhakaran told us to forget the past. But this was one press conference I will never forget.
Prabhakaran wants to 'build bridges' with India
LTTE willing to give up arms
Prabhakaran calls Rajiv Gandhi's assassination tragic
India not likely to concede LTTE chief's demands
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