By Eric Ellis –
Sri Lanka’s paradise betrayed by monks, thugs and smugglers
Four years after its brutal victory over Tamil Tiger rebels that ended a 26-year-long civil war, Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-led government is at pains to persuade the world that it has at last brought peace and unity to this troubled island. And the captain of the flag-carrying SriLankan Airlines flight 423 from Bangkok seems keen to do his national bit.
Easing his Airbus over the tea-studded plantations of the island’s central highlands for the approach into Colombo, the pilot primes those on board for landing.
“A warm welcome to Paradise for all our passengers….” he cheerfully intones in a voice as rich as the coconut curries ‘Mother Lanka’ is famous for. “That is, welcome to Paradise Regained.”
Which Sri Lanka certainly is if you’ve holidayed on its hedonistic beaches – arguably Asia’s most divine. It’s also been a political Shangri-La for the many members of the triumphalist Rajapaksa clan crowding government ranks, led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and three of his brothers. They’ve ruled Sri Lanka since 2005 and, in South Asia’s dynastic style, are now positioning the family for yet another generation at the top. Ditto for the ruling brotherhood’s business cronies and military chums, as they pile into cosy government sinecures and the lucrative reconstruction deals that are spurring a modest economic surge now that the guns have been silenced in the Tamil north.
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*Eric Ellis is an award-winning journalist who writes about the politics, economics and societies of South and South-East Asia. He has written for a range of international journals; Fortune Magazine, Forbes, the Financial Times, Time Magazine, The Times, The Bulletin/Newsweek, The Spectator,Institutional Investor, Euromoney, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Australian Financial Review and the International Herald Tribune.