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 Post subject: And Then They Came For Me
 Post Posted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 1:22 pm 
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And Then They Came For Me

"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. As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. 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".

© Sunday Leader Editorial / Sunday Jan 11, 2009
By Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge killed on Thursday Jan 8, 2009


No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism, and urged government to view Sri Lanka's ethnic strife in the context of history and not through the telescope of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world routinely to bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing expos‚s we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" and "reconstruction" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. A problem amenable to a political solution will thus become a festering wound that will yield strife for all eternity. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few people remaining who routinely addresses him by his first name and uses the familiar Sinhala address oya when talking to him. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. Indeed, we broke with a decade of tradition by referring to you throughout by your first name. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

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.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on her knees when next she goes for Confession for it is not just her owns sins which she must confess, but those of her extended family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been - ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.


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 Post subject: Murder most foul
 Post Posted: Fri Jan 23, 2009 1:37 pm 
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Joined: Tue Mar 15, 2005 2:21 pm
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Murder most foul and a Govt. running scared

By Sonali Samarasinghe
@ Sunday Leader / Sunday Jan 11, 2009


While the government attempted to drown out the cries of outrage and sounds of weeping over the brutal murder of The Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge with the pounding of bombs in the north, its claims of victory on the military front may now not be enough to hold the regime together.

Hours after news of Lasantha's murder rocked the entire country, government ministers and other SLFPers were already jittery, privately blaming the government for its failure to stop a dangerous trend within the country culminating with this brutal killing. Some UNP crossers over were visibly angry at the government's failure to address the culture of impunity that had gripped the nation stating they had not crossed over to nurture this kind of break down of rule of law.

Body language

As the shocking news of Lasantha's murder reached parliament last Thursday morning (8) the corridors were filled with those decrying the deed as a foul and despicable act.

Yet quickly the exigencies of political survival would kick in. Lasantha was a journalist who had a wide range of contacts from across the political divide. Albeit this wide circle of friends and acquaintances dotted in their hundreds in the national and international political milieu the body language of the ruling regime following his murder was uncomfortable and distant at best.

Hardly any government minister save for a smattering of those UNP crossers over, felt it politically expedient to pay their last respects to a man who had stood up for the rights of all during his rich life.

Frightening

But for the tremendous crowds that did come, the realisation was clear. That at no time before had they lived through more frightening times. From the spontaneity with which passers joined the massive protest procession it was evident that at least in that moment of emotion, these massive crowds had joined for one shining moment the journey traversed by one man. A colossus in his time. A man who had no fear.

Certainly if there was ever a time for the establishment to get rid of the nuisance that is Lasantha Wickrematunge, then this time was that time. The government was pushing forward on the military front capturing large swathes of territory while the LTTE retreated to the jungles of Mullaitivu. Drunk with power and buoyed up by a wave of optimism over the war, Lasantha's murderers - whoever they maybe - could take false comfort in the knowledge that the current military successes could be effectively used to soften the impact of such an outrageous and high profile assassination.

Yes. Lasantha's funeral was not attended by the entire government despite many of its members including President Rajapakse admittedly being closely associated with him.

And one could hardly expect a peep about the assassination from Lasantha's friend President Rajapakse even today as he delivers a political speech at the UPFA's first propaganda rally of the upcoming Provincial Council election in Matale.

It would be the first public rally to be addressed by the President after the recent military successes in the north and the government will continue to sell the war and ride on this wave of euphoria that is being fueled by government propaganda machines as it drowns out the voices of dissent and the sounds of justice.

Claims of friendship

Immediately after Lasantha's death, Rajapakse went on every possible television channel to demonstrate his close proximity to the Editor - President Mahinda Rajapakse said he had been invited to Lasantha's wedding on December 27, 2008 and had even invited the newly weds to Temple Trees for a meal. An invitation he claimed they had allegedly accepted.

Just last Wednesday (14) President Mahinda Rajapakse at a media heads and publishers meeting especially convened for the purpose was to even accuse The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge of being an informant.

According to the President, Lasantha had told him Karu Jayasuriya was quitting the government and joining the UNP. However sources close to Lasantha said Jayasuriya's crossing over was no secret at the time it was revealed and that Lasantha had mentioned it in passing during an informal chat with Rajapakse in the presence of Dr. Eliyantha White and another businessman.

Useless informant

While President Rajapakse - a man who has been called a cabinet reporter himself by former President Chandrika Kumaratunga finds solace in such innocuous banter, and attempts to tarnish the character of the slain editor in a desperate attempt to demonstrate Lasantha's value as a friend and informant he had yet failed to provide any evidence of a recording or CD to substantiate his claims.

Neither is Lasantha alive to prove or disprove these statements but in his finest work which would alas be his last he predicted his own death. His final editorial titled 'And Then They Came For Me.' in the space of 10 days came to be known as the 'Letter from the Grave' - it has become one of the most viewed and most emailed articles in the world.

In it Lasantha says, "It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me."

Under your watch

Lasantha continues addressing President Rajapakse, "You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice. I feel sorry for you."

It is true that Lasantha and Mahinda Rajapakse had been friends for over 20 years. But it was only recently that the two had begun meeting again - and that too at the insistence of Rajapakse.

Lasantha never went for the monthly editors meetings convened by the President's Office but for the last couple of months before his death he had visited the President's House for dinner - in the presence of two friends. Lasantha was at first apprehensive about this Presidential call to a rapprochement but later relented.

Oluwatada wedune?

Be that as it may, on the morning of Thursday, January 8, President Rajapakse was busy with meetings at Temple Trees. At a meeting of four associations related to the coconut industry the President had been talking with key industrialists about the problems facing them in the present economic scenario.

The meeting was attended by the Coconut Product Exporters Association, the Coir Products Association, the Horticultural Exporters' Association and the Poultry Association where representatives of these bodies were making presentations setting out the current problems facing exporters.

While the Coconut Product Association presentation was being made by its representatives Rajapakse was to get a phone call. He would listen attentively interjecting only once to say 'oluwatada wedune' before terminating the call.

Immediately assuming the matter related to the military drive in the north and wondering if the President would be in a mood to continue with a coconut exporters' presentation the representative asked 'Can I continue Sir?' at which time Rajapakse told him to please continue his presentation.

In fact when a representative from the Poultry Association observed during the meeting that due to certain constraints they were better off doing business in Singapore, Rajapakse was to say jokingly 'then we should send you to Singapore.'

However when it was time to ask questions President Rajapakse had told those present, 'I'm hungry, aren't you'll hungry let's go out and eat.'

Those at the meeting and President Rajapakse then went out of the meeting room to the Temple Trees dining room to partake of presidential victuals. Having escorted the attendees outside, Rajapakse was to go into his office and they were informed the meeting was over.

It was only when the representatives of the Coconut Exporters Associations had come out of Temple Trees and collected their confiscated mobile phones that they realised Lasantha Wickrematunge had been fatally attacked.

That was not the only meeting President Rajapakse would attend that morning. He was also scheduled to meet with bankers and representatives of small and medium industries which he would do. Again Rajapakse was seen to receive two calls which he answered and then continued with the meeting at hand.

Eliyantha White

Be that as it well may, medical sources at Kalubowila reveal that at the time Lasantha was brought into the OPD that Thursday morning his pulse was a low 43, he had dilated pupils and his right ear was oozing blood.

It was some time after crack medical teams had started to work on Lasantha that Dr. Eliyantha White had walked in to the hospital. He had informed a close family member that Lasantha had in fact called him that morning on his way to office to tell him that he was being followed and to convey this message to President Rajapakse.

White was supposedly a herbal medicine man somewhat well regarded among certain politicians and also President Rajapakse.

White had informed this family member that he had immediately called the President but the President had been otherwise occupied in the Budu Ge (Shrine Room) for about 45 minutes. When the President returned his call, Eliyantha had told this family member, 'The deed had already been done.'

Injury

Meanwhile Lasantha was in the Emergency Unit of the Kalubowila Hospital with an injury to his head. We already know from eyewitness accounts that his car was surrounded by assailants on four dark hued motorbikes.

We know that the windows of both the drivers' side and the passenger side had been smashed. We know that a witness had allegedly seen one of the assailants on the passenger side of the car pulling out a weapon of sorts - likely a heavy metal pole wrapped in a newspaper and smashing it into the head of Lasantha.

Lasantha according to police sources may have fallen onto the passenger seat sideways when he was attacked from the drivers' side of the car.

Base of skull fracture

From the injury on the skull medical sources who do not wish to be named say the metal pole may have had at its lethal end two sharp points driven into it. Lasantha also suffered a base of skull fracture due to pressure from within.

Police sources say that two noises were heard during the attack but they did not sound like gunshots. Police sources so far allegedly claim that spent cartridges have not been found.

The government has rejected calls to bring in a team of international experts to investigate the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, saying the Sri Lanka Police were capable of conducting the investigation themselves.

Conspiracy theories

This is even as elements in the government like the JHU put forward absurd claims of CIA conspiracies relating to the murder.

Meanwhile, the police are said to be conducting a separate investigation to ascertain whether there is a link between the recent attack on the MTV/MBC studio in Pannipitiya and the assassination of Lasantha.

Dead end

However these crack local police teams so far have said they have no leads in either investigation, but were analysing fingerprints found at the two scenes. DIG Prasanna Nanayakkara is in charge of two teams the government says is working on the case.

And even as the government is on the one hand publicising the war and trumpeting its victories to drown out the cries for justice over Lasantha on the other hand it is quickly building up bogus conspiracy theories to point fingers elsewhere not only over Lasantha's assassination but also on the attack on MTV/MBC two days before Lasantha was killed.

Politicising investigations

IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne sources say have had several conferences with investigation teams on the subject while reliable sources said the authorities had also called for the files of Richard de Zoysa and other journalists killed during the UNP era to use in a political debate over the killing of Lasantha rather than focus on bringing the culprits to book.

The government has also gone into panic mode for the same reason. The Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Colombo German Ambassador Juergen Weerth was sharply criticised and summoned Tuesday (12) by Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona for delivering a funeral oration at Lasantha's funeral on Monday. It did not matter that the contents of his short speech were uncontroversial and indeed appropriate.

Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona expressed the government's displeasure in private but the Ministry leaked the news to the media right away Foreign Ministry sources said.

Diplomat reprimanded

Weerth in his oration said inter alia, "It is a day where words do not count anymore. It is a day where one remains speechless and one has to say something. Maybe we should have raised our voice before.

"Today it is too late. It is a day when humanity has lost a major voice of truth...But what remains is his legacy and what he meant to each of us.

Let us honour his work, his courage and his example. As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps may I extend our deepest condolences to the family, the staff of The Sunday Leader and all here who have had the privilege to call Lasantha a friend as have I."

Given the outpouring of public support for Lasantha's cause it was also a day the government was to feel at its lowest and at its most vulnerable.

Public concern

And it is this response by the government that gives rise to public concern regarding the objectivity of the government when conducting investigations into Lasantha's death.

Many steps that even to a layman should perhaps have been taken seem to have not. Although the types of motorcycles the assassins used have been identified by witnesses no public appeal has been made to establish their whereabouts. Though there is reason to believe that the nature of the murder weapon is known no description of it has yet been published calling for information from the public who may know who possessed or manufactured such a weapon.

These are matters that need to be clarified even as it is important to see that the investigation into Lasantha's murder does not in any way follow in the path of the investigation into the murder on New Guinean Rugby Player Joel Pera.

It is vital that the government for its own survival - whether it is a fair perception or otherwise - is not seen to be embarking on both a cover up and a campaign to confuse the evidence so as to secure an acquittal even if the murderers are eventually apprehended.

And if Lasantha lay bleeding on a hospital table January 8 morning the government was busy trying to hush it up. Minister Dulles Alahapperuma was to call up some media houses and advise them to lie low on the issue. That evening on the Rathu Ira programme UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena, a guest on the show was asked by one of the producers to not touch on the slaying of Lasantha Wickrematunge but to stick to the agreed subject of provincial council elections.

The main evening news bulletin of the government owned Independent Television Network made no mention of the killing of Lasantha on Thursday night even though it was obviously the top story of the day. The other state media barely made mention of it merely using it as a filler at best.

With national and international support pouring in for the Editor the government now resorted to desperate damage control. President Rajapakse on hearing the Editors were planning to carry a common lead story on the assassination was to even call the Sunday Times Chairman Ranjith Wijewardena on the matter to have it stopped.

Alliances in a common cause

Meanwhile the broad opposition front, civil society and women's organisations were never more bonded to one common cause than after Lasantha's brutal assassination.

UNP's Jayalath Jayawardena had already taken steps to write to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the International Press Union to muster support for a more concerted campaign against the culture of impunity cultivated by the Rajapakse government.

NGOs, civil society, professionals and businessmen will next Tuesday (20) meet to set up a broad front for the Right to Live and The Freedom of Expression.

Last Wednesday (14) a group of about 35 people met at Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe's Cambridge Terrace office to prepare a framework for future action.

Wickremesinghe had come out all guns firing slamming the government for the attacks on the MTV/MBC Station and the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, alleging an elite killer squad within the security establishment was behind the attacks.

Given the outrage generated across the island over the brutal events of last week it would seem that the government though winning on the military front may not be doing so on all other fronts.


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