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Leaders never die – they enter a mythical realm

June 16, 2009

The Age – Leaders never die – they enter a mythical realm

In the bitterest conflicts, the body of the leader can be a battleground.

ON HIS most recent trip to Sri Lanka, Age South Asia correspondent Matt Wade unearthed many chilling stories. But one that stood out for me came near the end of the Tamil Tigers’ doomed stand near the Nanthi Kadal Lagoon in the north-east.

For a couple of days, claims and counter-claims had bounced back and forth regarding the fate of the Tigers’ leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran. There had been photographs of a body, issued by the same Sri Lankan military that restricted media access to the war zone. That evening, Wade had been told something else.

“They’ve cremated the remains,” he said. “Already. They said he’d been officially identified, and that was it.”

Of all the wars men fight for power, the war over the body of the leader — over death itself — is perhaps the most irrational and absurd. A few days later, one of the many Sri Lankan Tamils who have flooded The Age with emails in recent weeks sent us a newspaper photo of a man with a passing resemblance to Prabhakaran, in his famous fatigues, laughing at television images of his “own” dead body. The email contained only the words “He is still alive”.

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