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LTTE terror attack on Central Bank 25 years ago

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By Lalith Fernando

January 31, 1996 will never be erased from the minds of the people who were there at the financial hub of Sri Lanka, the Colombo Fort. Some died, some were injured, some escaped, some were spared of any injuries, some witnessed the harrowing calamities, some became ‘Good Samaritans’, and the majority of the countrymen were devastated as a whole. On the positive perspective there were plenty of unsung heroes.

The 25th anniversary of that tragedy fell on 31 Jan. Many articles have been written about the bomb attack on the Central Bank. In a previous article of mine, ‘The day it all happened at the Central Bank bomb blast’, that appeared in this newspaper on May 16 last year, I narrated what all my bank colleagues and I experienced on that day at the HNB, City office in Colombo Fort. On the following day of my article R. T Wijetilleke, the former Managing Director and Chairman of the HNB wrote about his long trek towards City Office from the Head Office at R. A. De Mel Mawatha (during that time) out of utmost concern for his staff members.

When delving out unpublished stories the following are some excerpts that I gathered from a few Treasury colleagues and my closest buddies of a few banks who faced various other calamities during the dreadful moments.

This is from, Brian Fernando a former senior officer who worked at HNB Emirates branch which was located at the Galadarai Hotel building. “Except for the shattering of glasses, we did not have any other problems. However, the crushed axle of explosives laden lorry flew and landed in the car park there.”

At that time there were three foreign banks operating just opposite the Central Bank, namely American Express Bank, Banque Indosuez and ABN Amro Bank. Other banks in the vicinity were and are HNB, Standard Chartered Bank and Bank of Ceylon.

Following are the accounts of my good friends Sunil Leeniyagoda, (SL) then Head of Treasury, ABN Amro Bank) and his deputy Sunil Karunaratne (SK) fondly known as Loku Sunil and Podi Sunia respectively among the Forex Association fraternity. The former said that they all went to the lobby downstairs just to see what the unusual sounds were, louder than firecrackers, probably shooting. “No sooner had the bomb gone off than the whole place became unrecognisable, covered with debris from the shattered buildings including ours.”

Inside the bank a big portion of the fragmented granite reception table was on the body of the fallen and struggling receptionist. Out of injured lot in the bank who were rushed to hospitals, there was a Sri Lankan Burgher employee by the name Rickie Harrigde who looked like an European. In the hospital he was given a bed reserved for foreigners. When his family members could not find him anywhere in the hospital somebody had told them that there is a foreigner shouting in pain in Sinhala in the ward reserved for foreigners. That was how his family members found him alive but in utter pain.”

This is SK’s version. “I will never forget that unpleasant day. It was a regular working day as usual. The sound of gunfire and explosion took place around 10 am as the entire ceiling and glass came crashing down on us. By instinct, I took cover under the table, as my mother (Japanese) used to relate how she and her friends practiced how to respond to earthquakes during warning drills at school in Japan.

“I was one of the lucky ones to escape without an injury but most of my friends and colleagues were not that lucky; they suffered injuries. Many innocent lives were destroyed. The staff from the Navy contingent across the road helped us evacuate the wounded. As we remember the innocent people who perished on that fateful day, they will remain in our hearts and memories until we also join them.”

This is what his boss said about the unsung hero: “Repatriation (export) of foreign currency notes to other countries especially to Singapore and Switzerland was a lucrative and a profitable business of some banks at that time. The banks that are involved in that business purchase same from other smaller banks and also from the Central Bank apart from their own collections. That day two officials from our bank were at the CBSL to collect some foreign currency notes from it as prearranged. While one officer left for our bank the other waited to conclude the transaction. He then presented our bank’s settlement cheque and received the FC notes. The bomb went off when he was about to leave CBSL.

Within seconds, the CBSL building and its vicinity became something like a ‘tsunami’ affected’ area. We were worried about him and had no way of checking as the phones went dead soon after the blast. This officer amidst plenty of obstacles managed to leave the CBSL through a back door, jumped over a wall and landed at the Intercontinental Hotel premises. After a long walk (no transport was available) he finally reached our bank and handed over the bag containing the foreign currency notes to me. The name of that ‘epitome of honesty’ was R. Samman.” This unheard story was narrated by Ruwan Cooray, the former AGM Treasury of Sampath Bank, my childhood friend from Panadura.

This is an excerpt from Wasantha Aluthwela, former Deputy Head of Treasury, Standard Chartered Bank Colombo, just opposite the President’s House. “We all went out to the balcony to see the unusual sounds coming from the direction of the CBSL. The bomb blast occurred within seconds. Thanks to the solid ‘colonial’ structure that the bank was housed in, there were no major damages despite shaking for a while. Only the ceilings and the glass windows were shattered.

 

All of us went inside as instructed by the Navy personnel who rushed to the scene immediately after the blast.”

At the Bank of Ceylon, former DGM Treasury, Late Freddie Jayarajah, AGM A.G. Weerasinghe and their Chief Dealer, S. Palihawadana (SP) were having a discussion in the DGM’s room on the seventh floor facing the Ceylinco building at the time of the blast. SP’s version is as follows.

 

“We were watching the unusual drama just opposite CBSL. In seconds the worst thing that I have observed in my life happened. Out of the threesome the worst hit was my good boss Freddie, as a cut to his neck required three months of treatment while we two escaped unscathed. Further, Freddie sustained injuries especially to his face, which required 21 sutures and a period of physiotherapy treatment so he could regain sensitivity in his lips and cheek,” SP gave his version. His son-in-law Tony Candappa (of American Express Bank) recalled with plenty of gratitude the gracious assistance offered by BOC staff members in rushing their much-loved boss, Freddie to the hospital thus saving his life.

A close friend who was a senior manager (he did not want to disclose his name) at Banque Indosuez, located in the Ceylinco building, narrated his story as follows. “Just before the blast, gun shots were heard and the staff approached the windows of the first floor to see what was happening outside the bank. At that moment our French Manager of the bank shouted to the staff to get down on the ground immediately. Within moments the blast occurred. The large glass door of the bank just swung open and an elderly gentleman who was close to the door was thrown backwards and fell on a young man. Both fell and the young man broke his leg. When I saw the injured fellow banker, I carried him to the ground floor and dispatched him to the hospital in a vehicle. After a few days we were informed of his demise. He had succumbed to his injuries and we lost a good friend.”

Another former, Forex Association colleague Tony Candappa (mentioned above), who was the Deputy Head of Treasury of American Express Bank narrated his story as follows. “Our bank was located in the George Stuart’s building, just opposite the Central Bank. When the initial gun shots were heard, like crackers, everyone rushed to the windows to see what was happening, unaware that a massive explosion was about to occur, like the many commuters and office staff members in the Colombo Fort area.

There was mayhem all around. One female staff member lost her precious life within the bank premises. Everyone else had severe injuries, with one person completely losing his eyesight and another losing one eye. Both were at the travel-related customer service counter.”

The Representative Office of the fourth largest bank in New York at that time, Bankers Trust Company NY (BTC) was located in the fifth floor of the Cargo Boat Development Company building directly opposite CBSL. Veteran Bankers late Earnest Gunasekara and O. Ravi Perera (OR), (both my former bosses) were the Director and Vice President of that office respectively. Luckily for them the Swiss Air office, which suffered the majority of the impact, shielded their own office. “All of us left via the fire escape as two floors were on fire,” my former boss OR said.

Our country has yet to learn a lot about the safety of its people even after many deadly bomb blasts all over the country, before May 2009. The Easter Sunday bomb blasts in 2019 could have been easily avoided if the right security measures had been adopted by the respective authorities as per warnings. The following statement by the former Head of CIA, William Colby is a classic lesson for all responsible authorities and the rulers of this resplendent and peaceful country of a bygone era.

“A good intelligence service is a cheap substitute for a large-scale war.”

Above is the truth and the whole truth. In addition, such an efficient and well-informed intelligence service will save precious lives of countrymen and national wealth alike. Further, such incidents due to lack of vigilance and lethargic attitudes of authorities, create conducive environments for enemies and rogues, both educated and uneducated, to satisfy their perverse desires.

I trust that the following quote of the greatest scientist Albert Einstein is relevant: “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”



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Features

To recognise and reward Women Entrepreneur

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by Zanita Careem

WCIC “Prathibhabis-heka” national awards will be given to outstanding women entrepreneurs of Sri Lanka and the SAARC said Anoji de Silva, the chairperson of Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce WCIC at a press conference held at the Jetwing hotel Ward PlaceThis year the Women Entrepreneur Awards 2022 is powered by DFCS Aloka.This National Award which is recognised globally will help women to market their products to international buyers

“As a country we have faced many difficulties over the last few years. Now this is the time to reflect and ensure that local women can contribute and progress to be on par with international entrepreneurs She also noted that this award ceremony is a great opportunity for all since it’s an absolutely empowering platform. “You hear success stories of women from different walks of life and it’s very empowering and inspiring. I’m sure that the younger generation of women who will watch the ceremony wii be inspired to be sucessful entrepreneurs in the future S

“Our women entrepreneurs have the potential to help our economy to grow. They have made vast strides to build companies on a set of values and they have created diverse working environments.

The WCIC Prathibhabisheka Women Entrepreneur Awards will be held in January 22. To the question how financial records of small businesses headed by women could deter their ability to apply the chairperson said.

“We have a startup category which is under five years where they can submit documents for consideration. She responded “These women can apply but must submit proper records to back their applications or else they will be rejected wholeheartedly.The Women Entrepreneur Awards 2022

“Prathibha” depicts excellence in Sanskrit and WCIC will showcase the excellence of outstanding women entrepreneurs through WCIC Prathibhabisheka –

“The relaunched property is structured to assess the businesses in a holistic manner. We invite outstanding women entrepreneurs, especially the ones who have braved the challenges in the past years to share their story of resilience and achievements to compete for the coveted – WCIC Prathibhabisheka The Awards will honour women entrepreneurs for their tenacity to scale and grow, and for their contribution and impact on the economy. Whilst the competition is primarily for Sri Lankan Entrepreneurs, we have also included an opportunity for women in the SAARC region to compete in a special category” stated Anoji De Silva, the Chairperson of the WCIC.

The members of WCIC Ramani Ponnambalam and Tusitha Kumarakul-asingam, said”. We will be accepting applications under the categories – Start-up, Micro, Small, Medium and Large. Each category will have a specified revenue for the year under review – 2021/22. Gold, Silver and Bronze Awards will be presented for each category. With the view to identify and promote regional women entrepreneurs, we will encourage applications from all the provinces in the country and select the “Best of the Region” from each province.

The women will also be considered for the coveted special awards – Young Woman Entrepreneur, Outstanding Start- up, Most Positively Abled Woman Entrepreneur, The Most Outstanding Export Oriented Entrepreneur, The Best of the SAARC Region. The ceremony will culminate with the selection of the “Women Entrepreneur of the year -2022”.

“The entry kit can be downloaded from www.wcicsl.lk and completed and submitted to the WCIC along with all the material required to substantiate the applicant’s story. Entries close on the 31st of October.” stated Tusitha Kumarak-ulasingam.

WCIC Prathibabisheka – Woman Entrepreneur Awards 2022 is powered by– DFCC Aloka, as the Platinum Sponsor, with Gold Sponsors – Mclarens Group, LOLL Holdings Plc, Hayleys Leisure Pic, and AIA Insurance Lanka Ltd (Exclusive Insurance Partner), Silver – Finez Capital Ventures Print and Social Media Partners will be the Wijeya Group and Electronic Media Partner–ABC Network with Triad as our Creative Partner and Ernst & Young as Knowledge Partner.

Women’s Chamber of Industry and Commerce (WCIC) is the premier organization supporting entrepreneurs and professional business-women. The membership is open to women who believe they can contribute to society as well as benefit from the many facilities the organization creates. WCIC Prathibhasheka is relaunched this year as a flagship property, to recognize and reward outstanding women enterpreneurs who make a contribution to the SL economy.

For further information Contact- Janitha Stephens – 0766848080

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Features

Marmalade sandwich in Queen’s handbag!

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In this period of national mourning, it may seem frivolous to comment on the late Queen’s handbag. After seven decades of selfless service to the nation, fashion is but a footnote to Her Majesty’s glorious reign.And yet her style is something that helped to create the powerful majestic image of Queen Elizabeth II, and which made her instantly recognisable worldwide. A key part of that image, and a constant presence in her working life, was her black Launer handbag.

Launer London was Her Majesty’s handbag maker for more than 50 years and has held the Royal Warrant since 1968. Launer bags are formal and structured, and proved to be the ideal regal accessory for public engagements. Its first royal patronage came from HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother in the 1950s. Where others might have bought the latest ‘It’ bag, Queen Elizabeth exercised characteristic restraint with her handbags throughout her life, focusing on quality over quantity in her loyalty to Launer.

Her Majesty was known for her love of colour in her working wardrobe, wearing rainbow brights in order to be better seen by the public, but her accessories were always muted. Black mostly, sometimes beige or white in summer, gold or silver in the evening: neutrals that matched with every colour, allowing her to dress with ease. The timeless style of her trusty Traviata top-handle bag suited the Queen’s no-nonsense nature and symbolised her steadfast reign. The late Baroness Thatcher shared the Queen’s love of a strong top handle from classic British labels such as Launer and Asprey. These bags helped promote a look of someone in control. Like Queen Elizabeth, Thatcher’s handbags were such a part of her identity that they have earned their own special place in history and have been described as the former PM’s ‘secret weapon’. One such bag has been exhibited at the V&A alongside Sir Winston Churchill’s red despatch box. Both are artefacts of cultural and historic importance.

It has been said that there was another purpose to the Queen’s handbag on public engagements, namely that she used it as a secret signalling device. According to royal historian Hugo Vickers, Her Majesty would switch the bag from her left arm to her right to signal for an aide to come to her rescue if she tired of the conversation in which she was engaged. If she placed the bag on the table, this was a sign that she wanted to leave. Ever-practical, HM needed a bag that focused on functionality over fashion, choosing styles with slightly longer top handles that comfortably looped over the monarch’s arm, freeing her hands to accept bouquets and greet the public. Even in her final photograph, meeting her 15th prime minister in her sitting room at Balmoral Castle, just two days before her death last week, the Queen’s handbag can be seen on her left arm. Perhaps at this stage it was part armour, part comfort blanket.Even at the age of 96, Queen Elizabeth II did not lose her ability to surprise. She delighted the public by taking tea with Paddington Bear at her Platinum Jubilee celebrations and finally revealed what she keeps in her handbag: a marmalade sandwich, ‘for later’.

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Cinnamon Grand, Colombo welcomes You to the SEQUEL

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The next best thing in Colombo!

What would you get if you took the decadence of yesterday and paired it with the flavours of right now? Something bold and jazzy or rich and snazzy. Something we’d like to call the next best thing. All this and more at Cinnamon City Hotels to the SEQUEL at Cinnamon Grand, Colombo said a press release.

The release said the SEQUEL is where the old meets new, where charm meets sophistication and having a good time gets a new meaning. Colombo’s latest speakeasy cocktail bar is ready to welcome the discerning guest that is looking for that perfectly curated night.

“The SEQUEL will be a novel addition to Colombo’s nightlife catered to enthralling guests with our performances and showmanship,” said Kamal Munasinghe, Area Vice-President, Cinnamon City Hotels.

What do we mean when we say performance? It means that every little detail is tailored to those who appreciate elegance, and a bespoke experience like no other. Think walking into a vintage space accompanied by the sounds of Sinatra and Fitzgerald inviting you to do it your way or for once in your life. Think of the soul-searching and eclectic mix of Winehouse classics that you can drown your sorrows in.

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