Sri Lankan refugee recalls horrors of war
"I SAW a young boy gunned down in front of me" – the words of Sri Lankan refugee Johannes Shanmugam as he recalled the horror he witnessed in the war-torn country.
Mr Shanmugan, who now lives in Springbank, said he twice had a gun pointed at him during the civil war between Tamil separatists and the Sinhalese government.
Years on, he still feels guilty that he survived.
Now the 49-year-old father is planning to walk 112 miles in five days to raise money to buy computers for Sri Lankan schools, as well as the British charity Help4Heroes, which supports injured soldiers.
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He hopes to raise £10,000 and will set off from the war memorial on the Promenade in Cheltenham town centre on November 2.
Talking about his experiences in Sri Lanka, Mr Shanmugan, who is a Tamil, said: "The first time a gun was pointed at me was the day the war broke out in July 1983. I was travelling in a van from the textiles factory I worked in, when the military surrounded us. The man in charge of the military unit pointed a gun at my forehead and asked me what I was doing.
"Because I answered in Sinhala, the Sinhalese language, he didn't shoot me. When he asked the boy next to me what he was doing, because he did not understand Sinhala, he was shot right in front of me.
"The boy was only nine or ten. That still haunts me because I couldn't help the boy," he said.
Mr Shanmugan added that the second time he could have been shot was in 1990 when on the train with his family.
"The military were checking everyone. A soldier pointed a gun at me, and before I could speak my mum said "he's my son" in Sinhala.
"The soldier said 'I don't care, I can do anything I want with him,' but he then went away. But they took many people off the train that day.
"That was the last straw for me. I knew I had to get out of the country to stay alive."
Mr Shanmugan fled to Sweden in 1990, then moved to England in 1999 before making Cheltenham his home in 2000.
Although Mr Shanmugan's immediate family escaped Sri Lanka, he said he was still searching for four relatives who were unaccounted for.
He added that 17 members of his wife's family were killed in a cluster bomb attack in 2009.
It is estimated that almost 100,000 people were killed during the conflict, which ravaged the country from 1983 to 2009.
Mr Shanmugan said: "I feel guilty that I survived and others didn't. I know that I'm one of the lucky ones."
To sponsor him, visit h2hwalk.org/donate.html.