Mel Gunasekera, colleague and friend

Eye witness

Mel Gunasekera became AFP's first full-time woman correspondent in Colombo when she joined in January !!"# $he had co%ered $ri &anka's 'amil separatist war and its bloody finale in !!( and was widely respected across the country# )n February * she was murdered at her Colombo home after confrontin+ a bur+lar# ,er former collea+ue* AFP's $ri &anka bureau chief Amal Jayasin+he* pays tribute#

By Amal Jayasin+he When a caller asked me if something terrible had happened to my friend Mel, my response was "No, it can't be." If it had, she would ha e told me. But within minutes, I had the most de astating news in my !" years as a reporter. My former #$% colleague Mel &unasekera, '(, had been murdered at her )olombo home after confronting a burglar whom she had apparently recognised as a painter her family had employed. *he was stabbed to death at home on $ebruary ", "(+' as her parents and only brother ,ayan were at church.

,ayan said I was one of two people he wanted to immediately inform after finding his sister in a pool of blood, but somehow he could not locate the telephone numbers and it was up to another relati e to con ey the tragic news. Mel and I co ered *ri -anka's .amil separatist war and its bloody finale in "((/, the same year a local newspaper editor was gunned down near )olombo. .hat assassination of *unday -eader 0ditor -asantha Wickrematunga stunned us both. It was shocking but it was an occupational ha1ard that we had come to e2pect. .o fall ictim to a senseless killing on a sunny *unday was something else. Now I know what "chilling" is. I ha e ne er felt this terrified, e en when under gunfire while dri ing with colleagues through a iolent election campaign in *ri -anka in +///.

$ri &ankan journalists and media ri+hts acti%ists protest in Colombo on January (* !!(* followin+ the assassination of prominent journalist &asantha -ickrematun+a# .AFP Photo/&akruwan -anniarachchi0 3ust three days earlier, Mel and I were on the phone discussing the health of the

country's finances and ended the long con ersation with our usual "*ee you later, take care." Mel became #$%'s first full4time woman correspondent in )olombo when she 5oined in 3anuary "((6. *he was regarded as a hard4nosed financial 5ournalist e en after she switched to a more lucrati e 5ob with $itch 7atings in ,ecember "(+". 0 en before formally 5oining #$% in 3anuary "((6, she had helped me and other isiting #$% colleagues co er the aftermath of the ,ecember "((' #sian tsunami, which claimed at least !+,((( li es in the country. *outh #sia Bureau )hief Barry %arker who hired Mel was de astated, as were all others at #$% who had known her. "Mel was blessed with not only strong ability in both science and the arts but also a natural curiosity, happiness and grace, despite the turmoil in *ri -anka," said Barry, who is now bureau chief in *ydney. "We were so lucky to know Mel and I was one of many delighted to stay in touch from howe er far away and to congratulate her on new entures," Barry said in a mail to me. "I'll cherish those memories and share in your sadness."

.AFP Photo/1shara 2odikara0 Barry's then deputy, Bryan %earson, spoke for e eryone at #$% who knew her, when he wrote8 "9uge shock now being followed by wa es of aftershocks 44 difficult to comprehend it all 44 you will be 9:&0-; missed Mel 44 7I% sweet friend." Barry's successor, &iles 9ewitt, added8 "*he did some terrific work for #$% 4 especially towards the end of the grim, gruelling ci il war 44 and was always at her best when talking to ordinary people in e2traordinary circumstances and gi ing them a oice." *outh #sia<s current bureau chief, )hris =tton, had not worked directly with Mel but was struck by the outpouring of grief of colleagues. >.hose who did ha e the good fortune to work with her ha e a treasure tro e of memories that they will sa our for many years to come,? )hris wrote. Mel had a special knack for unobtrusi ely getting a story from ictims of *ri -anka's drawn4out war. *he reported heart4wrenching stories of mothers desperately looking for their missing children.

)olombo was considered safe after the end of the fighting in May "((/ and there had been no attack blamed on .amil .iger rebels. Mel's murder, howe er, has, 5udging by the newspaper headlines, shocked the entire country. Mel had a 1est for life. Bursting with energy, e en while 5uggling her 5ournalistic work, she sang for )ontempo, a choir of her alma mater *t. Bridget's )on ent in )olombo and was a concert iolinist.

3oun+ $ri &ankan 4uddhist monks in southern $ri &anka on 5ecember 6* !7 * on the ei+hth anni%ersary of the Asian tsunami# .AFP Photo/&akruwan -anniarachchi0 #t an e2ceptionally emotional funeral ser ice, the choir, with whom Mel had once sung, initiated the proceedings with Beetho en's =de to 3oy. My wife )hristine and I plucked up the courage to sit in a pew at the front, but not before making preparations for a @uick e2it if I blacked out, as I feared I would. I was in tears throughout the ser ice, as was e eryone else and )hristine reminded me that the =de to 3oy was one of the first songs our sons had learnt to play on the

iolin and flute. .he emotional rush was like ne er before. #t church, numerous lo ed ones and friends could only shake hands or hug each other, no words spoken, no one able to speak. But all had one thought8 No parent should e er ha e to bury a child. 9er de astated parents spoke to each and e ery mourner and repeatedly told her friends that they did not know Mel had such a wide circle of friends. # *ri -ankan colleague ,ilrukshi 9andunnetti, a senior editor of )eylon .oday may ha e spoken for all of us when she wrote8 "9ow can you go away so soonA" Posted by Thavam

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