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Yesterday morning local time, a newspaper editor who has long been critical of the government was shot dead here in Colombo.  Time magazine:

Lasantha Wickrematunge, one of Sri Lanka's leading journalists, a freelance reporter for TIME and an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government, was shot this morning as he drove to work in Colombo, his country's capital. He later died of his injuries.

The attack, by two gunmen on motorcycles in the middle of morning-rush-hour traffic, was brazen even by the standards of Sri Lanka... Wickrematunge wasn't far from his home in Colombo South when he was approached sometime between 10 and 11 a.m. by the two gunmen, who blocked his car and shot him in the head and chest. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he died shortly after 2 p.m. local time.

Lasantha turns out to have been a friend of a friend, although in the tiny bubble of Sri Lankan civil society that isn't surprising.  His murder is a message to the circle of people in Colombo working for democracy, justice and human rights, and the message has been well understood: time to start getting people out.

On New Year's Day, the Government of Sri Lanka finally announced their capture of the Tamil Tiger's northern stronghold and de facto capital, Kilinochchi.

It had been on the cards for months.  President Rajapakse had promised that Kilinochchi would fall by the end of the year, and that this would symbolize  the final and total military defeat of one of the world's most feared terrorist organizations.  On the day of the announcement, firecrackers were set off in the streets of the South as ethnic Sinhalese, the majority group, took to the streets in celebration at the prospect of an end to the 30-year war and the demise of the Tigers.

The military defeat of terrorist organizations is all the rage these days, so the international community has largely watched from the sidelines as the Rajapakse regime, in its single-minded prosecution of the war, has allowed a culture of fear and impunity to take hold in Sri Lanka.  Arbitrary detention, harassment, killings and disappearances are the norm, with ordinary Tamils the main targets.

Observers were wondering just what would happen in the North once Kilinochchi fell.  The conventional wisdom was that the Tigers would just go back underground to resume their campaign of suicide-bombings in Colombo and the South; the "reset position" for the conflict.  The Government would take hold of the North, and bloody retribution against and among Tamils will most likely commence.

This outcome is partly why conventional wisdom has long held that there is no military solution to the conflict, and that political negotiations must take place.  Conventional wisdom forgot that if you drop enough bombs on Kilinochchi you can get something that looks enough like a military solution that it validates all the Government's brutal tactics so far.  Conventional wisdom forgot to ask what an emboldened and self-confident Rajapakse regime might do to its critics and opponents in Colombo once it thinks that the Tigers are out of the way.

Lasantha's murder is the answer to that unasked question.


For me, the violence is always one step removed; no further and no nearer.  I just hope that it stays at least one step removed.  That's normally the best I can do.  But if someone reads this then that helps a little, too.

PS.  With the situation in Gaza, some in the media are pointing to the success of Sri Lanka's military campaign against the Tamil Tigers as justification for Israel's attacks against Hamas.  I hope this diary gives evidence of how it's not as simple as that.  For example, after bombing the town of Kilinochchi back to the stone age, President Rajapakse has expressed solidarity with the Palestinians.  Go figure.

Originally posted to ignatz uk on Thu Jan 08, 2009 at 11:36 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Cheers for reading (5+ / 0-)

    With journalists being killed and excluded from the war zone, it's hard to get the story out there about what's happening here.

    For example, there are around 300,000 civilians trapped in the war zone now with no access to food or shelter.  The government kicked out the aid agencies in September.  Gaza is no picnic but for the last three months Kilinochchi has likely been worse.

  •  Tragic situation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ignatz uk

    that needs more international attention.  Add to yours one more hope that the violence stays one step removed.  I share in your sadness that that's the best you can wish for.    

    Thanks for bringing us more information on this awful situation.

  •  Because it does not fit into any (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ignatz uk, thebluecrayon

    of the simplistic narratives with which Americans like to lull themselves to sleep, you see how little interest the humanitarian crisis of Sri Lanka generates here. Ideology first last and always, and if the facts don't fit, ignore them.

    What's so hard about Peace, Love, and Truth and Progress?

    by melvin on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 02:42:00 AM PST

  •  Thanks for the balanced Diary.. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ignatz uk, thebluecrayon

    Richard De Zoysa a wll known journalist and  was a close friend of a close friend. He too was killed by the Sri Lankan Government in 1990

    In the early hours of February 18th 1990 a Sri Lankan government death squad abducted journalist and television newsreader Richard de Zoysa from his home in Colombo.

    The next evening his body was washed ashore on Lunawa beach. He had been shot in the head. He had burn marks on his body. Richard was 32 at the time of his death.

    Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

    by RationalMan on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 02:52:05 AM PST

    •  I hadn't heard about De Zoysa (0+ / 0-)

      thanks for the comment.  This murder has hit people pretty hard here.  The govt crossed a line.  Anyone could be next.

      All the papers were supposed to run a plain black page on page 3 yesterday in protest, but only one editor had the courage to go ahead.  I wouldn't like to be him/her right now.  None of them printed any of the international condemnation of the killing, just the government line that they had nothing to do with it.

      This place is as scared as I've ever seen it.

  •  This is all true, but it's also true... (0+ / 0-)

    ...that the previous truce collapsed almost entirely because of violations by the LTTE.  I don't want to drag SL into the I/P debate (and the diarist noted at the end a delicious irony), but one similarity is obvious: the state actor is deeply flawed, serially abusive, and premised on ethnic supremacy...but the insurgent actor is terrorist, maximalist, nihilist, and completely uninterested in any settlement except as a staging area for its next insurgency.  

    -5.38/-3.74 We're currently in a sig interregnum. A siggie vacante, as it were.

    by Rich in PA on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 05:31:12 AM PST

    •  Will all due respect... (0+ / 0-)

      where did you pull this out of ?  

      ..that the previous truce collapsed almost entirely because of violations by the LTTE


      I wish you would reseach more before making such inaccurate statements...

      Here is BBC on the this topic.

      Sri Lanka ceasefire formally ends
      By Roland Buerk
      BBC News, Colombo

      Sri Lankan military helicopter over Trincomalee
      Heavy fighting has been going on in the north and east
      The ceasefire between Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tigers formally comes to an end on Wednesday.

      The government gave notice two weeks ago it was pulling out of the agreement which was brokered by Norway in 2002.

      Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

      by RationalMan on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 06:22:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh for god's sake (0+ / 0-)

        The LTTE violated the cease fire for months and months, totally frustrating the hell out of the usually unflappable Norwegian mediators (say, why don't you search the BBC web archive for that...that's where I read it at the time!), and the SL government--being a government, and therefore under an obligation to announce its policies in a way the LTTE isn't--finally decided to pull out.

        This is like another civil war, in Colombia, where the government "pulled out of a cease fire" with the guerrillas in 2001 after the guerrillas ignored it for months, and the global craziness lobby trumpeted it as proof the government was responsible for the collapse.  

        -5.38/-3.74 We're currently in a sig interregnum. A siggie vacante, as it were.

        by Rich in PA on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 06:32:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your knowledge of Sri Lankan issues.. (0+ / 0-)

          ... is limited to reading BBC reports? Why didn't you say so. Where else is your expertise derived from?

          I can assure you that I  lived in  Sri Lanka  and have a lot of still have a lot of friends there there. People who actually live in the areas covered by the "Ceasefire". Both parties crossed the line from time to time even during the UNP administration of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinge, but once Rajapaksa came to power, everything went backwards.

          Please, learn more about the subjects before commenting on them.  

          Opinon is free but facts are sacred.

          Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. Oscar Wilde

          by RationalMan on Fri Jan 09, 2009 at 07:39:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  To be honest (0+ / 0-)

            my take on this is that the Norwegians (and other peace brokers) fucked up.  They were so determined to prove that peaceful negotiations were the way forward that they insisted that both sides were ready to negotiate when they clearly were not.  Both sides had fought themselves into an weakened condition, and both wanted to negotiate from a position of strength.

            The LTTE used the ceasefire to rearm, and I'm afraid that they did violate the ceasefire regularly - off the top of my head, something like 1,000 recorded violations to the military's few dozen.  It's in one of the ICG reports I linked to.

            In response, Rajapakse was elected on his promise to end the war.  By and large he's keeping that promise.  He pumped the military full of cash and they were so pissed off at being held on a leash during the ceasefire, watching the LTTE rearm and take more territory, that they were only too happy when they were let loose.

            Right now, although this is nominally a democracy, the military (run by Ghotabaya, the President's brother) is totally in control of all policy.  A friend was at a recent meeting when a government official admitted that the govt does what the military wants it to.

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