- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Military jets and helicopters buzzed the Sri Lankan countryside yesterday under a state of emergency declared after the assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The government blamed Tamil Tiger rebels for Friday’s killing, but it has not taken steps to break a three-year-old cease-fire with the group, officially called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Officials from around the world urged both sides to press ahead with the country’s faltering peace process and respect the truce.

A state of emergency went into effect within hours of the killing of the heavily protected foreign minister, who was shot by snipers Friday evening at his home after taking a swim.

Mr. Kadirgamar, 73, was an ethnic Tamil who led efforts to ban the Tigers as a terrorist organization but later backed peace efforts.

Soldiers scoured the capital for suspects, searching homes and stopping cars, and military aircraft covered Tamil Tiger territory — even though Tigers denied any responsibility for the shooting.

“It is a grave setback to the peace process,” an official who leads government peace efforts, Jayantha Dhanapala, told reporters. “Restarting [the peace process] will be seriously undermined.”

The Tigers began fighting in 1983 for a separate homeland for ethnic Tamils, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese.

The civil war killed nearly 65,000 people in the country of 19 million before a Norwegian-brokered cease-fire in 2002.

Subsequent peace talks broke down, however, over rebel demands for greater autonomy in the areas under their control in eastern and northern Sri Lanka.

The rebels’ political chief denied any role in the killing and criticized officials for “hastily blaming” the group.

“We also know that there are factions within the Sri Lankan armed forces operating with a hidden agenda to sabotage the cease-fire agreement,” said S.P. Tamilselvan. He urged the government to thoroughly investigate the killing.

Sri Lankan officials were skeptical.

“We find it extremely difficult to accept the denial,” government spokesman Nimal Siripala de Silva told reporters. “It’s very, very difficult to accept.” Still, he said the government would take no action to violate the truce.

Police Inspector-General Chandra Fernando said one or two assassins fired six shots at Mr. Kadirgamar, striking him three times. The assassins fired through a hole they had made in a building opposite Mr. Kadirgamar’s house, in Colombo’s diplomatic district.

Several people were detained for questioning, but Mr. Fernando refused to say how many. “It can be seven to 70,” he said.

The state of emergency declared by President Chandrika Kumaratunga empowered authorities to detain without charge anyone suspected of taking part in terrorist activities and to search and demolish buildings.

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