Thank you, Kadir
A terrorist sniper's bullets felled a national hero on Friday night. The perpetrators of this assassination had every reason to silence Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar and everyone knew it.

It was not just a long-standing grudge, but a calculated, cold-blooded move to remove from the political firmament a man who had a supreme commitment to a united Sri Lanka.

Earlier in the day, a husband and wife working in the state media were gunned down for the same reason - to eliminate all opposition in the quest for a separate state in the north and east of this country.

Despite all the song and dance in some quarters about the security given to the Foreign Minister, his private residence was guarded by just four policemen. It was a clear and shocking lapse of security to protect a known target - who had been warned by Military Intelligence that the LTTE had upped the ante in its campaign to destroy him.

But there's no purpose in crying over spilled blood now. A man who went out on a limb for national unity has been eliminated. Probably not since the turn of the last century - when a minority member of Sri Lankan society, Sir Ponnambalam Ramanathan spoke on behalf of the whole country - had a politician from a minority community been so respected by Sri Lankans of all walks of life.

Kadirgamar was not afraid to be different. A non-comformist from an early age, he told his Christian father that he wished to go to Trinity College, Kandy despite all his elder brothers having enrolled at Royal College, Colombo. Having excelled in both studies and sports at Trinity, winning colours in rugby football, cricket and athletics, the young Kadirgamar was among the first batch of students at the Law Faculty at the University of Peradeniya - a showpiece University in Asia at the time.

Passing out as a lawyer from Law College, he proceeded to Oxford University where he had an early induction to politics by being elected the famous Oxford Union's President, defeating a student who later became a well-known British politician and Leader of the House of Commons.

He returned to Sri Lanka to practise law, then went to the UN in Geneva to take up a senior post with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), but returned to the country in the thick of political unrest in 1989 to resume his law practice. By 1994 he was ready to plunge into the whirlpool, if not cesspit, of Sri Lankan politics and his underlying credo was to give back something to the country that nurtured him through his life. To try and make the difference.

The 1994 elections propelled him to the high office of Minister of Foreign Affairs, a position he recently said he was proud to have held for almost ten years. The country was in the throes of a violent separatist movement, which had its early direct backing by at least one foreign neighbour, and later some kind of tacit support from the international community.

With punishing schedules, Lakshman Kadirgamar had the confidence, the diplomatic finesse, savvy and articulateness to walk through the corridors of power in the world's capitals and talk as an equal, advocating the cause of a small nation-state fighting for its very survival. Totally committed to the defence of the nation and unity of all her peoples, he succeeded in arguing her case. And he knew more than anyone else, that he would have to pay the price for it.

Many ordinary Sri Lankans appreciated his efforts; some did not. All for different reasons. In recent months, Kadirgamar took a back-seat - not because he was against the peace process with the LTTE as some mistakenly believe, but because he did not agree with the strategy. As ever, he was unwavering in his commitment to a free and united Sri Lanka.

He was not without warts, but he was a perfectly decent human-being. Gentle to an extreme, he was one whom the old Americans would describe as 'walk gently, carry big stick'. His interests were many and varied. Just hours before his assassination he was telephoning people urging them to purchase a book on the life and work of an indigenous painter that he had been instrumental in having printed. This had nothing to do with Foreign Affairs.

Tributes are now pouring in to a great man of our times. A democrat and a man of peace who could walk with kings but not lose the common touch. Yet, few have the courage to name the perpetrators of this death or call for a laying down of arms. Such were the double-standards of the international community that Lakshman Kadirgamar loathed.

For some, his removal from the scene will no doubt be seen as the removal of an irritant. To others, isn't this a wake-up call, if indeed any wake-up calls are necessary as to the abyss our nation has plunged into?

The voice of a liberal who embraced all religions and a man who stood for the unity of all Sri Lankans has been stilled. There's no greater deed than to serve your country and countrymen, and no greater glory than to sacrifice your life in doing so.

"Well played, Kadir," they would say to the young schoolboy from Kandy. " Well Done, Sir," we say to him in death. And "Thank You".

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