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Friday, Jan 23, 2009, 10:35 am

Chronicle of a Sri Lankan Assassination Foretold

By Jeremy Gantz
Sri Lanka's civil society, always fragile and frayed, has nearly reached a state of total collapse. The seemingly endless civil war between the island's government and the rebel Tamil Tigers has reached a new high/low point in recent months, with the deficit-spending government apparently pushing the Tigers into a shrinking coastal redoubt.

Tiger leader Velupillai Prabakaran, his forces weakened to a point unseen since the 1970s, has reached a new nadir: he has to tell the world he hasn't fled the island yet.

But as the government prosecutes victory in the northeast, brutal costs are being incurred by civilians far from the jungle battlefields. Early today, yet another journalist was attacked by thugs on motorcycles, this time with iron rods. Two weeks ago, Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the oppositionist Sunday Leader was assassinated on his way to work. Two months ago, Amnesty International said that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

(During my time in Sri Lanka, I read most English newspapers every day. Most of them were government sponsored/influenced crap; the Leader may have been flawed, but it was never compromised. It is the closest thing the country has to a real newspaper.)

Wickramatunga knew exactly what was coming, and this letter, stowed away on his computer weeks before his death, proves that. I beseech you: please read this brilliant, brutally honest letter, much of it addressed to Sri Lanka's president, now. It offers a window into Sri Lanka's particular brand of tragedy like nothing else I've read in years. Here are just two paragraphs...The New Yorkers' Steve Coll has published it in full, with a great intro offering context, here.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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