Prepared for a long wait I rent a beach house in Negombo twenty miles north of Columbo where I've stayed on previous trips. The house, like many things in Sri Lanka, looks like it has seen better days but the place is still pleasant, relaxing and there are handsome boys around eager to entertain foreigners. Much of the time I sit in the open beach front restaurant, a Lion Pilsner in my hand, as I read newspapers and background material on the difficulties. I had just given a couple of hungry boys I know from before enough rupees to buy rice at a nearby stand when a middle aged American woman sitting near me comments on how kind I am. How nice? and I'm appropriately modest about my generousity, particularly as I've arranged to meet one of the boys later in the evening at my beach house.
"Nevertheless, it's nice to see that some people care." she continues, "Some foreigners come here just to exploit the children, rob them of their childhood, if you know what I mean." I nod sagely and explain I'm merely a journalist. "That's one good thing about the difficulties, the county's not crawling with pedophiles anymore." I have to agree that there's some truth in what she says.
It's almost a month before I get a response to the feelers I've put out through old contacts, but it's well worth the wait. It could be a major scoop for me. The Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE, by far the most militant and effective guerrilla force in the north, are willing to meet me. I assume they feel I could be of some propaganda advantage to them at this time. I might be the bearer of messages and impressions that could influence others in possible future negotiations.
However, I draw my own conclusions, and I'm very skeptical of much of what I'd hear, such as the kamikaze squads they're supposedly using against the Indian Peace Keeping Force, or IPKF. I remember the soft mannered, dark eyed Tamil boys from my last trip to Jaffna. It's hard to think of them as dedicated, fanatical guerrilla fighters.
How I made my way to the Jaffna peninsula is not a story I can tell at this time. There are many delays and last minute changes before I meet a representative of the Tigers at a former beach resort on the north coast.
D.P. is a dark, stocky, stubble faced youth of maybe twenty two or three, yet he claims to be a senior commander on the peninsula. He might be, or he might just be one of their intelligence experts sizing me up. He promises to show me what his 'boys' can do, and hooded I'm taken on a long drive to a bush camp. I see a number of crude sleeping shelters, most with mosquito netting, and one low hut set among the trees. Altogether, I see eight armed men and maybe a dozen boys around fourteen in sarongs and slippers. The men all have duties while the boys are mostly playing some gambling game or doing various kinds of exercises sometimes leaping, sometimes diving along the ground. One boy is exquisitely beautiful with huge dark eyes and tiny, wispy hairs along his upper lip. He smiles at me and I, of course, smile back. He tells me his name is Lahl. Glancing around at the men I realize that I'm not his only admirer.
Lahl is part of the new squad, "There's eight of us", he tells me "and the other boys are the ones left from the old squad, they die in the next attack because at end, all boys left in the squad die together. We are all Holy Warriors of Tamil Eelam." Lahl is quite nonchalant about all this and pulls out a cord from his neck with a cyanide capsule attached. "This makes us strong." he announces.
D.P. has been watching with interest. "That is very true. The enemy has practically no prisoners, and knows very little about us. Cyanide is a sacrament, we do not expect boys or men to stand up to enemy torture for long. Without it, the enemy would have had hundreds of prisoners, and the organization would have been crushed." I can see the logic. "Cyanide has saved many lives."
I watch Lahl kiss his cap before putting it back in his sarong. He smiles when he sees me watching and using my shoulder to steady himself he shows me his, if that is possible, "fancy" pair of rubber slippers with striped ribbed soles. "I get these so I can run better when I destroy the enemy." I am stunned by both his beauty and simple conviction. How do they brainwash them?
As if in answer D.P. speaks, "Boys become men very young in Tamil Eelam. We are Tamil, we all serve. The Tamils will survive. Long live Eelam!" It becomes a pep talk, and then preparation begins. They are going to set up an ambush for a major patrol reported on the way. I notice the three remaining boys from the old squad become manic with excitement. They hug and clasp each other in abandon and go about with stances and tough looks.
After marching for a few miles keeping cover as well as we can in the largely open countryside I am left back at a vantage point with two armed men and the eight new boys while D.P. with six armed men and the three kamikaze boys head into a mango grove closer to the main road with cartons of explosives.
We don't have to wait long for the patrol, a tank followed by two lightly armoured trucks full of troops comes down the road. In front, a hostage is driving an old truck, just in case of mines which the Tigers are famous for. This truck stops just before a culvert and an obviously nervous old man goes down to check it, presumable for explosives. The new boys watch with intense excitement. Suddenly, the three kamikaze boys leap out of the ditch at the side and throw themselves at the vehicles. The rear truck is destroyed, bodies flying. At the middle truck the boy has to set himself off before he can dive under it, blasting all except those in the cab. It is over five seconds, who knows what's been happening? before an explosion rocks the tank, mangling the treads. The new boys are ecstatic, cheer wildly. "Did you see Gamil? he dove right between two of them!" "And Muji, he still got most of them even though he got shot." "Yeah, Gamil showed me how he'd practised doing it so he could get right under." The boys babble on, each eagerly anticipating his own chance to destroy the enemy.
D.P. and his men move in, easily killing a number of stunned survivors but take a casualty as men in the truck cab start shooting. Then the crippled tank opens fire. D.P. retreats as helicopters will arrive soon. We retreat a different way and meet them back at the camp.
D.P. is satisfied. "Mission successful!" He estimates that the enemy lost at least thirty men, he lost one man and used three boys. "Our Holy Warriors are our most effective weapon, but sometimes an entire squad of boys die in vain. Now the enemy will attack the hamlet down the road in retaliation, and we will have more recruits."
I listen to the new boys talk among themselves, and they do not mind me or my questions and requests for clarification as my understanding of Tamil is weak at best. All of the boys have stories to tell, all have lost family and friends in the fighting, many as a result of enemy atrocities. Only the smallest, Oliver, still has both parents and he had to watch while his sisters were raped which in his
culture is worse than death. Revenge, however seems only part of their motivation, more important perhaps is the sense of purpose, of belonging that the Tigers provide.
Then after a lull, Lahl speaks, "I would like to have known a woman. I would like to know what it is like." "But it is wrong, even with a whore." one boy objects. "As Holy Warriors we should remain pure." another adds. "Next time," Oliver jokes, "maybe you be a Muslim and have four wives." "A Hindu Muslim?" Lahl inquires with a grin. But I can see a longing in his face and I can hardly keep my eyes off the enchanting child. He smiles, I think innocently, when he catches me looking at him for the third or fourth time. When the Tigers eat their meagre rations I am glad I brought my own provisions and I give Lahl the rest of my Smarties to share out among the boys.
Afterwards D.P. comes over. "Tomorrow we destroy one, possibly two enemy outposts, and soon they will be driven back to the fort. And then we will drive them out of Jaffna and all of Eelam."
"Can I be first?" Lahl asks, "I am strong and have trained hard." The others are also eager and D.P. picks Lahl and little Oliver for the first mission. I leave to make notes where my flashlight won't cause concern to unburden my mind of what I've seen.
Later I talk with D.P., I'm convinced now that he's a senior commander as he claims. I will write: The Indians currently celebrating victories, which my Tiger friends say were no more than massacres that swelled their ranks, face an extremely tough, resourceful and determined guerrilla army. That's part of the message I'm sure they want me to convey. They are not as weak as numbers might indicate. And the people, they may not agree with the methods and indeed fear the Tigers, but they are proud of them and offer support willingly. I learn no more than D.P. and his men wish me to.
D.P. has noticed my interest in Lahl. "He is very.... Tamil, very handsome, even beautiful. Before, many foreigners come here because of the beautiful boys, you know what I mean?" I nod vaguely. "You like Lahl? He knows very little of life but is as you say, horny. Maybe you would like to make good times with him?" I sigh. "You be a good man for him?" I tell him I will.
D.P. confers briefly with Lahl who glances my way with his big, dark eyes wide and a happy smile. Lahl comes over to me, "You show me sex, you show me good time?" I tell him I will do my best. Scouts honour. I realize that to provide a boy's only sexual encounter is an awesome responsibility. We can use the hut which allows some privacy.
Lahl has never seen an airmattress before and bounces up and down on it, rolls around on it and then playfully wrestles with it. When he quietens I tell him sex is best without clothes. He smiles bashfully and shows me his stiff cock but doesn't want to undress. I shake my head, which I realize is culturally confusing, but he seems to understand. I remember I have a sheet in my pack and drape it over the two of us. He helps hold it while I remove his dusty sweaty sarong and dirty gaunch. He insists that the cord with the cyanide capsule stays. I can smell him, musky rich to the nostrils for so young a boy. The soft light from the kerosene lantern coming though the sheet makes the unblemished, brown skin covering his graceful lean physique glow. And no cock ever stood more rigid and proud. He is beautiful. I tell him he is a handsome young man, and that he has a lovely cock. I tell him he is very sexy and women would love him. I ask him to listen to the music of my fingers.
I touch him very carefully, I don't want him to giggle or feel ticklish. Inside the sheet I hug him loosely and gradually get him used to his neck being stroked as he stands passively trying to feel rather than react to the stimulation. Then as my hands gradually work down his sides and bumpy spine, he begins to welcome the sensations, his breathing deepens and he shudders at times. Massaging lightly I pass over his narrow buttocks and around to his inner thighs. He gasps. I kneel, kiss his patient prick and lay him down on the air mattress.
"You show me the sex thing now?" It is All sex I tell him. Still shrouded by the sheet I stroke him gently from his ears, around his delicate neck, down his slender torso to his moist thighs, legs and dirty toes. It is all new to him and he is enormously thrilled. He responds to every stroke with little moans and shivers, an indulgent open mouthed smile on his face. His half grown cock quivers with tension. Every square inch of his skin seems erogenous and his excitement soon becomes unbearable. He points to his eager rod, "You, you." imploring me to fondle it. I barely touch it and he comes squealing "AHIEEE!" loud enough for others to hear I'm sure. "I thank you, I thank you." I fight my embarrassment and very slowly at first resume my stimulation using his cum as a lubricant and when that becomes too sticky I use my lips. "OH, OH, OH! Very good." He clings to me and at the same time squirms as if to get free. The sheet is kicked off in his struggles. He's panting loudly and trembling and then as I feel his lovely rod spasm he squeals "AHIEEE" again. I let him rest a minute before I begin again. At a much more leisurely pace I suck his soon hard again cock and stroke his belly and chest gently tweaking his little nipples, taking time to lick the insides of his salty thighs and around his bean bag. He loves it, becoming dreamy eyed and savouring the sensations. Gradually he starts writhing with gentle thrusts. Three times he comes, thrusting wildly on the last as I try to keep his pretty appendage in my mouth. I'm delighted by his virility and passion and gaze in wonder at his naked boyish beauty. What a waste, what a shame. Oh the ugliness of war!
I begin to stroke his body once more, his cock is willing, but he objects. "I need to be strong for tomorrow. Maybe too much sex already, but I thank you very much. I have a good idea about knowing women now." He becomes quiet, almost meditative and snuggles against me as I hug him from behind. He's soon asleep but there really isn't enough room for both of us on the narrow mattress and I'm uncomfortable, my mind is in tumult, and I doubt if I could sleep anyway. I think dawn's breaking when I finally doze off. The sun is well up when I do awake and I barely have time to down some of my rations before we move on.
The IPKF outpost and checkpoint is on a low rise and trees have been cleared for a hundred yards around. Two Indian soldiers are standing guard and two more are gathering firewood across the road. One comes out to use some bushes not far from us. D.P. peering through binoculars, estimates that there are another dozen or so inside the sandbagged walls of the outpost.
The explosives are unpacked and Lahl removes his sarong. He stands there proudly, his lovely lean young body glistening in the sunlight. Once again he shows me his fancy slippers. I try to smile and hide my tears. He raises his arms and seems serene as the strip packages of plastique, ten kilos in all, are wrapped around his body and taped in place. With his sarong back on he grins and jokes, "I get fat, no?"
D.P. waits until the wood gatherers had gone back inside and he can see faint wisps of smoke from their fire. Oliver is told to circle around to the other side of the outpost and create a distraction if needed. Lahl is given his instructions; he's to crawl through the grass to where a large stump provides some cover and then to run the remaining forty yards and leap the parapet before detonating the charge. Lahl's briefly embraced by all the other boys in turn, victory signs are flashed. He touches hands with me and scampers off towards the outpost keeping low. Lahl is running hard well past the stump when he's sighted. D.P.'s men pick off one guard with their rifles and the second is distracted by Oliver who charges screaming obscenities. He shoots, felling Oliver, and then crumples under a volley. Lahl, going all out with his heavy load is almost there as more soldiers begin to emerge. He scrambles up the sandbagged parapet and rolls inside. The structure explodes raining debris and body parts all around. The boys around me cheer wildly and hug each other. There's only one conscious survivor but he's too far gone to bother torturing and he's shot as are any others who may be alive. "Mission successful!" D.P. turns to me, "We are not afraid of dying, and that is our strength."
We go over to Oliver who's managed to prop himself up on an elbow. His sarong is blossoming with blood and he's coughing up more. One of the men examines him, the bullet's gone through his right lung. D.P. tells the distressed boy there's nothing they can do as he kneels an arm around him. "Oliver, without you the mission would have failed. You are a hero of Tamil Eelam." Oliver looks relieved, reassured. After a moment his face brightens, he pulls out the cord with the cyanide capsule and struggling to his knees he puts it in his mouth and bites. I have to excuse myself having seen more than I can handle. I avoid the remains of the outpost fearing I might find one of Lahl's slippers or something. The remaining six boys are enormously proud of Lahl and Oliver and wonder if they'll attack another out post today. I however, have to leave when an escort arrives to take me back.
My editor is not very pleased with my story, "What has happened to your professional objectivity?" And the boys of Negombo don't seem as exciting after my evening with Lahl.
Note: Some of the background material, including the use of cyanide capsules and "fourteen year olds wrapped in explosives" are taken from William McGowan's excellent book, ONLY MAN IS VILE, which describes the difficulties in Sri Lanka in the 1980's.