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Sri Lanka's foreign minister assassinated
Updated: 2005-08-13 09:38

Sri Lanka's president declared a state of emergency Saturday after her foreign minister was assassinated at his home. The military blamed the Tamil Tiger rebel group, which the slain official worked to ostracize internationally as a terrorist organization, AP reported.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, 73, was shot in the head and heart about 11 p.m. Friday. He was rushed to the National Hospital where he died, hours after he delivered a speech to a group of students on international relations.

"The minister had just returned from a swim and was getting inside his home when he was shot," Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando said. He said there were two snipers hiding in buildings near Kadirgamar's heavily guarded home in the capital's diplomatic district.

A Sri Lankan government soldier check vehicles leaving the capital of Colombo early August 13, 2005 after Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was shot dead at his residence. Kadirgamar, who campaigned to outlaw the Tamil Tigers internationally, was assassinated on Friday night in an attack police blamed on the rebels.
A Sri Lankan government soldier check vehicles leaving the capital of Colombo early August 13, 2005 after Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was shot dead at his residence. Kadirgamar, who campaigned to outlaw the Tamil Tigers internationally, was assassinated on Friday night in an attack police blamed on the rebels. [Reuters]
Authorities began house-to-house searches in the area and made two arrests at a neighboring house.

Early Saturday, President Chandrika Kumaratunga declared a state of emergency. The order will "facilitate enhanced security measures and effective investigations of this act of wanton terror," the president's office said.

As dawn broke, dozens of military trucks moved in and soldiers were seen positioning at all important road intersections in the capital.

The emergency law, used at the height of the conflict between the government and the Tamil Tigers, allows authorities to detain without trial anybody suspected of involvement in terrorist activities.

Kadirgamar, a member of the ethnic Tamil minority himself, was a close aide to Kumaratunga. An Oxford-educated lawyer, he led an international campaign against the Tigers, who remain on terrorist lists in five countries, including the United States and Britain.

Brig. Daya Ratnayake said that over the past week police had arrested two Tamil men who were taking video of the area.

"We have reasons to believe that he was killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam," Ratnayake said, using the rebels' formal name. "He was always under threat and had one of the best protections."

Kadirgamar is shown in Bangkok in this July 30, 2004 file photo.
Kadirgamar is shown in Bangkok in this July 30, 2004 file photo. [Reuters/file]
The justice minister, John Seneviratne, was more cautious.

"We can't say as yet who's behind this, but the minister had been getting threats," Seneviratne said outside the hospital.

Rebel attacks against Sri Lankan political leaders were once common.

Kumaratunga, who rushed to the hospital after the shooting, was herself gravely wounded in an assassination attempt in 1999. Police blamed Tamil rebels for that attack, which killed 26 people.

Such high-level attacks stopped after a February 2002 cease-fire, but tensions have been growing lately between the government and the rebels. There has been a surge of attacks in the volatile eastern region, occasionally spilling into the capital, Colombo.

"The situation has deteriorated," Hagrup Haukland, chief of the cease-fire monitors told The Associated Press. "It's a big, big blow to the cease-fire and the whole peace process irrespective of who is behind this."

He said it was "too early to speculate if there was going to be an outbreak of war," but added that he had informed monitors stationed in district offices to be on the alert.

Elite policemen and soldiers condoned the area around Kadirgamar's home, and the air force deployed helicopters to search for the assailants. Authorities tightened security at all entry and exit points to the city.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils in the country's north and east, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. The conflict killed nearly 65,000 people before the Norway-brokered cease-fire.

Post-truce peace talks have been stalled since 2003 over rebel demands for wide autonomy in this country of 19 million people. Sri Lanka, an island nation about the size of West Virginia, is located less than 20 miles from the southeast coast of India.

The United States denounced the assassination.

"This senseless murder was a vicious act of terror, which the United States strongly condemns," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement. "Those responsible must be brought to justice."

Rice urged Sri Lankans not to let the assassination lead to resumed civil war.

Kadirgamar was the only lawmaker with heavy security even while he was in the opposition, as he was considered a top Tamil rebel target.

However, after the cease-fire Kadirgamar had strongly supported a negotiated settlement to the civil war.

Cooperation between the government and the Tamil rebels extended to an agreement they signed on June 24 to share international relief aid for survivors of the December earthquake and tsunami, which killed more than 31,000 in this country and left tens of thousands homeless.

But scores of people including security forces, rebels and civilians have been killed since a senior Tiger leader split from the mainstream group last year with some 6,000 fighters. Each side has blamed the other for the violence.

On Thursday, Anton Balasingham, the London-based chief negotiator for the Tigers, warned that Sri Lanka could slip back into civil war unless the government stops backing armed groups that the rebels claim are attacking them.

Balasingham accused the government of paying and providing logistics support to paramilitary groups, allowing the armed forces to "sustain a shadow war" against the rebels. He called it a grave violation of a 2002 cease-fire agreement between the rebels and the Sri Lankan government.

The government, however, denies providing support to paramilitaries.

Kadirgamar is survived by his wife, Suganthie; and by two children, Ragi and Ajitha, from an earlier marriage.

Tamil Tiger rebels deny killing Kadirgamar

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on Saturday denied involvement in the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, the rebels' political chief said.

Rebel chief S.P. Tamilchelvan condemned Sri Lanka's government for "hastily blaming the Liberation Tigers" for Friday's killing.

"We also know that there are sections within the Sri Lankan Armed forces operating with a hidden agenda to sabotage the cease-fire agreement," he said and urged Colombo to conduct a thorough investigation to identify the assassins.

There was no immediate comment from the government on the rebels' statement. But the Sri Lankan military blamed the rebels for the killing.

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