On a wet October evening in Colombo in 2006, while the ceasefire with the LTTE was still holding, a former Sri Lankan minister poured out piping hot tea for a group of visiting South Asian editors. We told him of a meeting with a Sri Lankan Tamil radio journalist who had been kidnapped and beaten before being released by the ‘white van gang’—a name for a state-sponsored militia who used white, unnumbered vans. Over 200 people had ‘disappeared’ from Colombo alone since January that year, including several editors and reporters—all but one Tamil. Civilian killings in Colombo averaged three to four people every day.
Despite the ceasefire, the main A9 route linking rebel-controlled areas with the rest of the country remained shut. An economic blockade prevented anything that could aid the rebels from going through; some essential supplies were allowed. Most Sinhala newspapers were silent on the plight of Tamils; the few who did were attacked and set on fire. The grey-haired, bespectacled politician lamented, “We have become a society without compassion. We have lost the capacity to be outraged.”