The Prime Minister of Tawa – 61
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The detachment of fifty soldiers who were sent to the dam site after trouble broke-out in Seedaland never had a chance against the SFF rebels who attacked them just before daybreak. One moment, everything was quiet and still and the next moment, the sound of gun fire and screams filled the air. It was as if every SFF man who lived in Seedaland had converged on that dam. The fighting didn’t take too long and was over within ten minutes of the first shot being fired. To be fair to the Tawan army men, they had just arrived at the dam site and were quite unfamiliar with their surroundings. They were split into two groups of twenty five each, on either side of the dam. Most of them were asleep when the attack started. The ones who were awake, did manage to sound the alarm. One Tawan soldier even managed to radio for help. But it was too late. The Seedas had amongst them, men who lived in the nearby villages, who knew every stone, every blade of grass, every thorn in that area. Some of the attackers had just returned from Eko where they had been part of the mob which surrounded the army compound. Still smarting from their perceived defeat at the hands of the Tawan army in Hepara, the SFF did not take any prisoners from among the soldiers. Instead, they killed every soldier, including the ones who had thrown down their rifles and put up their hands. The labourers who camped there ran away into the surrounding forest land immediately after the first shot was fired, their animal instinct for survival being much sharper than that of the soldiers who clung together and made a half-hearted attempt at fighting back.
Five of the engineers who lived at the dam site were killed. Two of them were Bendron Corp employees who had come from the US. The other three were ethnic Keendas from Hepara. The SFF captured the remaining fifteen engineers and took them away with them. They also carried away with them the rifles and ammunition from the soldiers they had killed.
For a week, there was no news of the kidnapped engineers. There was no fighting either. The Tawan army controlled Eko in the daytime, while the SFF owned it during the night. All other parts of Seedaland were no-go zones for the Tawan army. It was a lull before a storm and both sides girded up for the conflict that was looming up. There was speculation regarding the fate of the kidnapped engineers. The news of the kidnapping even made it to CNN and the BBC. After keeping everyone on tenterhooks for a week, the SFF made its demands known. It wanted Bendron Corp to suspend the construction of the dam. No work could be done till Tawan soldiers vacated Hepara and the autonomy of Seedaland was re-established. As soon as Bendron Corp received the SFF’s message, it agreed to indefinitely suspend all activities at the site of the dam. Which was a bit silly because no work had been done on the dam from the time the attack took place. Bendron Corp’s statement satisfied the SFF leadership which released all engineers other than the five locally hired ones. Bendron Corp made a request to the SFF to release the other engineers as well. They might have been locally hired, but they too were Bendron Corp employees. They were mere pawns in the game. They were innocent men with families dependent on them. They were the noblest of men, who had made sacrifices for the cause of Seedaland’s development.
All that’s fine, but we will release them only after the Tawan army leaves Hepara, the SFF reiterated. Why make a distinction between our engineers who came from overseas and the ones we hired here? Bendron Corp queried. They are all our employees.
For the obvious reason that the locally hired engineers are all Keenda bastards, the SFF replied. And why didn’t you hire any Seeda engineers? the SFF wanted to know.
‘Because we didn’t get any Seeda applicants,’ Bendron Corp responded.
‘No. You intentionally marginalised Seedas just to please the Keendas.’
‘Why on earth would we do that?’
The game of charges, counter-charges, promises and threats went on for another week. Withdraw the Tawan army from our sacred Seedaland, or we will start killing an engineer a day, the SFF threatened.
Please don’t punish our employees for what the Tawan government is doing, Bendron Corp pleaded. If there is anything we can do for you, we’d be happy to. It was a tricky business. After 9/11, it was practically impossible to send money to Seeda bank accounts anywhere in the world. All the Seeda fundraisers in the US and other countries were lying low. If you could tell us a way of giving you some money, Bendron Corp delicately offered. Nothing doing, the Tawan government said. In that case, get the Tawan government to release everyone who had been arrested in Eko after the Tawan army entered the town, the SFF asked Bendron Corp. We do not negotiate with terrorists, the Tawan government responded when Bendron Corp sought a prisoner exchange. We will not release a single prisoner, Mash thundered in front of Beemava TV cameras. And so the five Keenda engineers slipped into a prolonged period of captivity. Soon, they disappeared from the news headlines and the memories of people other than their family members.
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