Deadly reminder of the questions that actually matter
The assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar by what reasonably appears to be the LTTE (notwithstanding its denial) is curiously in consonance with this country's sense of subverted history.

It is tragically fitting that a death blow of this magnitude would have been struck against one of the last (if not the very last) Sri Lankan/s on the national political stage commanding a degree of (if occasionally, reluctant) respect at a time when the Sinhala polity was far removed from grappling with significant issues relating to the containment of the LTTE or for that matter, reconstruction processes following the greatest natural disaster to hit us in recent times.

The Northern conflict and the random abductions and killings of intelligence operatives or members of rival political parties had receded to the back of public consciousness for quite some time. Equally disregarded were counter killings of perceived-to-be LTTE sympathisers, including most notably Taraki Sivaram.

And the most singular question in regard to Kadir-gamar's assassination continues to stare us in the face; how could it have apparently so laconically taken place, more so, given the security warning regarding movements around his official residence just two weeks back? While it is very true that the former Minister of Foreign Affairs was only the most recent in the long list of political leaders killed by the LTTE, the very manner in which this assassination was effected, as opposed to the others, indicates a casualness that is marked. In its light, brave statements by the IGP and Government Mini-sters that those responsible will be 'brought to justice' ring horrendously hollow in our ears.

As repeatedly pointed out by defence correspondents in almost all the major newspapers, the covert intelligence apparatus operating from the South has never been more enfeebled than at this current point of time. Steady killings by the LTTE over the past several years together with lowering morale and a feeling of abandonment by intelligence operatives caught between the divisive politics of Southern politicians are primary reasons for this.

The Athurugiriya safe house incident is a case in point. Even now, debate rages between UNF and PA politicians as to whether the raid on the safe house by a team of police officers led by SSP Udugampola in 2002 was justified. It may be recalled that in this instance, members of the long-range reconnaissance patrol of the Directorate of Military Intelligence were arrested, detained and allegedly subjected to gross humiliating treatment after a police raid of their safe house in a Colombo suburb during the time of the previous UNF administration. The senior police officer leading the raid contended that the operatives were living in a residential area and keeping a large quantity of dangerous weapons in the house about which the area police had not been kept informed, occasioning the raid.

Deliberating on these versions, the Supreme Court determined that there had been a violation of a number of rights of the operatives so arrested, including the freedom from unlawful arrest and detention, the freedom from torture and the right to equality. (see Shahul Hameed Mohammed Nilam and Others vs K. Udugampola and Others (SC(FR) Applications No;s 68/2002, 73/202, 74/2002, 75/2002, 76/2002 SCM 29.01.2004). The Court observed particularly that pleas by the intelligence operatives that any publicity given to them or the safe house would endanger their lives had apparently fallen on deaf ears. This was a factor in the determining of high compensation for the violations.

Illustrative in this decision is the judicial finding of a violation of Article 11 (freedom from torture) based purely on pain of mind which was ruled to be of a sufficiently aggravated degree. Equally interesting if not somewhat more controversial was the court finding that their right to equality had also been violated as a result of the treatment meted out to them after they were arrested.

Regardless of the jurisprudential questions involved, the Athurugiriya case indicates very well the mistrust between the Southern based political parties which is so great that it overrides all other responses. In the case of Athurugiriya for example, senior UNF partymen believed that the safe house was being used for covert operations against the UNF itself. The ensuing fiasco led some to infer that the impetus for the stepped up operations by the LTTE against intelligence operatives came in good measure from intelligence made public as a result of the raid.

This sense of abandonment by the State of its officers has not been limited to one political administration alone. Killings that occurred during the current PA administration have been met with similar indifference as was evidenced most recently in the mob killing of SSP Charles Wijewardene in Jaffna.

Whether Kadir-gamar's assassination would have taken place if our intelligence apparatus was not malfunctioning is not the question in issue. Rather, his killing is an effective reminder that the continuance of the power hungry games of the Southern based politicians (of which one casualty has been the abandonment of good intelligence gathering) has put paid to any expectations of peace with dignity. The gathering of momentum towards a unilateral declaration of independence in the North, unaccompanied as it is by the protection of human rights of the people in those areas is important in this regard.

Rather than concern with these issues, we have had political antics centered for a while around the P-TOMS (aggravated by jingoistic calls to war by the JVP). Currently, those antics continue regarding the next date of the forthcoming presidential poll. This is not the first time that the Southern based political parties have gaily fiddled while far more disciplined forces patiently planned and accomplished their successive victories. In all unfortunately predictable probability, (given our incapacity to refrain from repeating our subverted history), neither will this be the last. But then again, when the governance structures themselves in the South are in a state of virtual dysfunction, (witness the fate of the 17th Amendment), how can one expect anything better?

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