August 15, 2020
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Nobody Listens

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Nobody Listens
It is business as usual in Colombo a day after the assassination of Sri Lanka's high-profile foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar. There's thin traffic in the usually grid-locked city, but the city's cafes and coffee shops are crowded. The droll pianist in a five-star hotel is playing maudlin Elton John standards. On the beach, young couples hide behind the ubiquitous umbrellas, inflatable toy vendors do brisk business, and children fly nifty kites. On the streets, soldiers and policemen politely flag down the occasional car or bus and check the passengers. There are more lovers holding hands than soldiers holding guns in the city. I meet a glum police officer supervising the funeral arrangements at the stately Independence Square. He bemoans that the sniper killing is being put down as a security failure. "The problem in this country is that nobody listens to anybody. The police had warned the minister to stay away from his personal residence. He ignored our warnings." So, a sniper, who apparently left behind some Chinese ammo and Tamil murukku, got Kadirgamar after he came out of a dip in his swimming pool. A state of emergency has been declared, conspiracy theories about who really killed Kadirgamar abound, but it is very quiet and civil. But the apparent calm is also a deceptive exterior to the tensions running within.

Most ordinary folks that I speak to feel that the peace process will now go into a complete limbo—after President Kumaratunga's government has blamed the Tigers for the murder. "The war may begin again," says a skittish monk looking for an address in Bellawatte, a Tamil-dominated Colombo neighbourhood also known as 'small Jaffna'. Here the majority Tamils run groceries and international phone booths to cater to the relatives of their kin who have emigrated.

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