Fifth Non Aligned Movement Conference 1976 - MemoriesAugust 18, 2012, 4:02 pm
by Major General (Retd)
"If you were to ask me ………… I will have to choose from … many important events …… the highlight of the Summit Conference …… one single event …… a logistical master piece, almost inhumanely perfect in timing of the cavalcade of the heads of State and government …… That was the day when I realised how proud we could be of our organisational resources, what our people, our officers and departments are capable of". (Vernon Mendis, Secretary General of the 5th NAM Summit)
Continued from last week
Opening Ceremony .This was to be the acid test. The movement plan required that 101 VIP motorcades which included the President and Prime Minister of SL, President Boumidiene of Algeria that had hosted the last Conference, the Secretary General of the UN Kurt Waldheim, The Secretary General of the Fifth NAM and 86 HOS/G and 10 undecided national observers hoping to join the movement. It was planned, timed and rehearsed so well that when it was put into effect, the arrivals were correct up to the minute, the PM’s secretary civil servant Dharmasiri Peiris recalls. Leaving nothing to chance DIG Rudra Rajasingham coordinating police operations checked up the preparations on the ground. He questioned the policemen on traffic control duties and was duly very impressed by their awareness.
Timings. Three hundred and three (303) vehicles had to take the VVIPs in one hour from their hotels to the BMICH for the opening ceremony. Collection from the hotels was in national alphabetical order. Only two minutes were given for each pick up at the hotel. The entire move to BMICH was actually done in 50 minutes. The Prime Minister was overwhelmed and jokingly asked whether the Conference should start 10 minutes ahead of time! Innovations. SP Perera moved not one but two motorcades at a time in parallel from the hotels on the Galle Road via Kollupitiya junction, Ananda Coomaraswamy Mw, right onto Marcus Fernando road, Albert Crescent, Torrington Ave to Buller’s Rd.
Reception at BMICH. As the motorcades entered BMICH Brig Garba gasped as I did when we saw the tree lined, flower filled lush green grounds were flanked by 86 National flags flying, with massed military and Hewisi bands playing stirring military and traditional airs. Colourful, swirling, lithesome and very pretty Kandyan and Baratha Natyam and energetic low country dancers covering the whole grounds performed. At the canopied entrance to the Conference hall only the HOS/G vehicle came up the ramp. The door of the VVIP car was opened by a Military Policeman and even as he shut its door the next VVIP car arrived in non stop flowing motion. The two escort vehicles of each motorcade stopped momentarily at the bottom of the ramp. The HOS/G were introduced to Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike by the LO. She met all HOS/G with the traditional SL smile that has captivated visitors through the ages and spontaneous, cheerful, warm words of welcome. Even today to recall how this flawless movement of 101 motorcades was done stuns me even as I remember how graciously SL’s PM welcomed her guests.
Sadat. President Anver Sadat of Egypt when informed of the time of his departure from the hotel told his LO, Major (later Maj Gen) Tissa Jayatunge that "this Sadat does not get up until 9 o’clock". Leo made the adjustments without blinking. It worked without a hitch even though Sadat’s security did some showy acrobatics crawling over and rolling under Sadat’s vehicle before he was allowed to get in. Onlookers were not impressed. Tissa was invited to Egypt for a holiday by a grateful and generous Sadat who was later assassinated by one of his own soldiers at a victory parade in 1981 for signing a peace treaty with Israel. His security had fled.
Indira Gandhi. Leo was able to fit in Indira Gandhi who arrived from India the day after India’s National Day celebrations in New Delhi (15 Aug). She was brought by helicopter from KIA to the Army rugby grounds (where the Taj Samudra stands today). She graciously consented to be driven to the Prime Minster’s official residence Temple Trees, generously loaned by Mrs Bandaranaike, through the East (Beira) entrance so as not to block the flowing motorcades, and yet made it looking strikingly fresh as ever in time for the opening ceremony. Never was SL closer to India than then.
Tito. Tito who was based on his yacht was requested to choose the time he wanted to leave. He told SP Perera he would be ready at any time he was given. Such were the leaders then and such was their affinity to SL. He threw a grand reception aboard his non communist luxury yacht berthed in the Colombo harbour for the delegates later.
Gratitude of PM Bandaranaike. SP Perera had never been sent abroad on any course traffic control or otherwise. Every detail he planned and executed was through his own home spun study, thinking and experience. He was deservedly sent on a holiday to Japan later by a grateful PM, something he recalls with gratitude even today.
Qatar. Maj (later Major General) Devinda Kalupahana had to rebuke one of the Qatar delegates at the registration hall in the Galle Face Hotel when that scamp revealed he had some dishonourable intentions. The Qatari was told in no uncertain terms to behave as his HOS/G would be without an LO if he made one more wrong move. Another excited Arab visitor prowling around the BMICH had to be politely but very very firmly told of painful consequences when he was seen trying to get fresh with the very pretty young ladies dressed in ‘redde hetta’ (jacket and cloth) working as volunteers at the BMICH Tea Board counter. One happened to be the sister of a brother officer. All such incidents were well handled by the LOs concerned.
Nigerian delegation. I was LO to the Nigerian delegation headed by foreign minister 6ft 2 ins Brig Joseph Garba. He had been my colleague at the British Army Staff and Command College in 1973. Nigerian President Gowan, a great favourite with the oil starved British and an alumnus visited during the course. Garba commanding the Brigade of Guards was the spokesman for the plotters that overthrew Gowan in a bloodless coup in 1975. Garba’s father was a chief from Langtan who had several palaces, many wives and 17 children.
Military courtesies. On his arrival when I called him ‘Sir’ Brig Garba told me that I should call him ‘Joe’ as before. I told him he would be called ‘Sir’ as long as he was in SL. He asked after my family who I told him were 125 miles (200 kms) away in Diyatalawa and well. His PA was a tough looking Hausa Sergeant Major. The security officer detailed for him was burly Inspector Rajapakse. Garba spoke about the Biafra war and how a privileged Ibo minority with western aid tried to divide Nigeria and secede. I little believed SL would face a similar situation in a few years.
Excursion to Bentota. Maj Andrew Ratnayake who had been with Brig Garba on the UN Indo Pak Mission after the 1965 war asked me to arrange for Garba to meet up with him. Andrew was a staff officer in Galle. His northern boundary was the Bentota river. He tried desperately hard to get permission to come to Colombo to meet Garba but failed. We therefore arranged lunch at Bentota Beach Hotel. Andrew had an agenda.
Cecil Denis. (Liberia) Garba’s friend and adjoining room neighbour in the hotel was the handsome, well educated, almost brown skinned Cecil Denis the Liberian Foreign Minister who was an inch taller than Garba. He was ebullient where Joe was more measured. In 1981 a Master Sergeant Daniel Doe took over Liberia and shot Cecil and 15 other Liberian Ministers on the Freetown beach. In Nigeria a close friend of Major (later Lt Gen) Waidyaratne at Sandhurst, Col Ibrahim Bissala (both my juniors in Alamein Company) had attempted a coup before the Conference but failed, with sudden tragic consequences to him.
Michael Kabore. On the opening day of the Conference I was told to usher in late arrival Michael Kabore of Upper Volta (Now Burkina Faso). I asked him whether he knew Col John Kabore of Ghana. Michael was taken aback as to how I knew John who was with me in Alamein Company at Sandhurst (1959-60). Michael said they were cousins separated by national boundaries dictated by colonial rulers. Michael was a much loved Upper Volta regional minister.
David Manley Jamaica’s dapper popular socialist Prime Minister, ex WW2 RAF fighter Command, was one of the few HOS/G who had time to meet us in the hotel lobby to chat late in the evenings. When he spoke in an accent much like ours of his days in the RAF in the Battle of Britain, he warmed our soldier hearts.
Bangladesh Major Siddique. Siddique, ADC to his President, a former Chief Justice Chowdhury, was being given a virtual cold shoulder by his LO late Major Nihal Wijesena possibly because Siddique was much younger. We spoke to him and found out details of the attempted coup led by Major Abu Tahir who had been on the 1964 RSO’s course in Rawalpindi with me. Siddique abruptly without hesitation said ‘we hanged him’. A Bangladesh Brigadier came in early 2000 to forge a liaison with the company I worked in my retirement. When this story was related he said he was that ADC.
Lakshmi Naganathan an outstanding diplomat, who I first knew when I was attending the Staff College course UK in 1973.She, was in charge of official receptions. She had some very pretty young ladies to help her in French speaking Manique and Sirohmi Gunasekera and Sakunatala Kadirigamar, niece of the SLN’s former Commander.
Somalia. From the list of HOSD/G arriving I saw that the Vice President of Somalia, Brigadier Ismail Abuker who had been with Major Sena de Sylva and me in Victory College at Sandhurst (1959-60) would be leading his delegation. He was called Smiley. He invited both of us to have tea with him at the Inter Continental Hotel. Sena did not come. When I went to Ismail’s room he immediately dismissed his security officers who were lurking around in the corridors. We had a great time reminiscing about many friends from 40 odd countries in those challenging and enjoyable days at the world’s best military academy. Smiley promised to keep in touch but he was ousted a short while after he got back by his President, a General. Smiley kidded me that I was still a Major. I told him, not without pride, that SL had a democratic government.
African interlude. Major (later Major General) Upali Karunaratne was LO for Ethiopia’s General Tefari Bente who had taken over disposing WW2’s one of NAMs founders, the former much acclaimed King Haile Selasie who had fought Italy’s colonial rule but had become a tyrant later. Bente himself was later overthrown and killed. Upali’s renewed ties with his Sandhurst Ghanian friend Foreign Minister Joe Felli. Major (later Major General) Sena de Sylva was LO for Algeria’s Boumidienne.
Vietnam. Major SJ Weerasena (deceased) was LO to the Vietnam delegation. They were the cynosure of all wherever they went. They were however very reticent when asked about their inflicting the first ever defeat on mighty super power, USA. Weerasena, as small built as they were, would relay scraps of information about life in Vietnam to a thoroughly envious audience.
Departure with Indira Gandhi. Towards the close of the conference Brig. Garba told me that he would be leaving for Delhi with Mrs Gandhi in her IAF plane. I was asked to liaise with the Indians. Gandhi’s LO was Gemunu Watch Major (later Maj Gen) Wijaya Wimalaratne who was commissioned from the Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun. Wijaya arranged for me to meet Gonsalves of the Indian FO. Gonsalves just could not avoid being thoroughly Indian-annoyingly patronising. He started off by giving me a movement schedule working backwards from KIA saying the time of departure was 3 pm and that since it took X minutes to get there I would have to arrange for the Nigerians to leave the hotel at Y hours and make sure the vehicle speed was Z mph etc. When he stopped talking I thanked him for the information. He asked if I had any questions. I had. I wanted to know the time on his watch. Wijaya told me later that Gonsalves had described me diplomatically as being on the ball.
The Nigerian delegation got to the airport VIP lounge about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Although Gonsalves emphasised that only Gandhi would be allowed to take her car up to the plane, I made sure my old friend was not treated differently. Given the choice Garb later retired from the Army as a Major General and became Foreign Minister. In 1989 he presided over the 44thth session of UN General Assembly. The CDN of 11 October 1989 (Vol 72 no 240) had a photo of him receiving a gem studded elephant from FM Ranjan Wijeratne. Garba died aged 62 in 2002.
Gifts. Liquor in generous quantities was stacked in all HOS/G rooms by late amiable Lt Comdr Sisira Jayatillake SLN. The Sierra Leone delegation took everything back with them, at least up to the airport. When their baggage was found to be greatly overweight and payment was insisted upon, they argued and demanded that the bill be sent to the UK High Commission for re imbursement! They left without much of the liquor and threw away the books on SL.
Invasion. When the conference ended the wives of some officers rushed in to the BMICH hoping if nothing else at least to inhale the heady air that their husbands had inhaled during the conference. They were disappointed.
Finis - The Star. Those were hectic and exhilarating days. Yet they were very soon almost forgotten in the years of terror that followed in SL even as the fear of the Cold War that was the main reason for NAM, ended. If Fidel Castro at the very next NAM conference in Havana, Cuba, could not recall the name of SL’s President JRJ (Yankee Dickie) when taking over from him, it was only to be expected. It was Mrs Bandaranaike’s name that resonated with all NAM countries if not most of the world. Field Marshal BL Montgomery listed her first among women leaders in one of his books on Leadership. After all she was the first woman Prime Minster in a democracy and was followed by India, Israel, Pakistan, Bangladesh, UK and Turkey amongst others. The fact that she took up the mantle from an assassinated husband was not missed by him. JRJ who declared ‘war’ on his own people (not the LTTE), removed her civic rights!
Hopefully the Commonwealth HOS/G in 2013 will give SL a chance to get back its place in the sun.
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Last Updated May 23 2013 | 10:49 pm