- The Washington Times - Friday, August 12, 2005

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, a member of the ethnic Tamil minority who led an international campaign to ban the Tamil Tiger rebels as a terrorist organization, was assassinated yesterday near his home. The military blamed the rebels.

Lakshman Kadirgamar, 73, was shot in the head and died after being taken to National Hospital for emergency surgery, Inspector General of Police Chandra Fernando said.

“The minister had just returned from a swim and was getting inside his home when he was shot,” Mr. Fernando said. He said there were two snipers hiding in buildings nearby Mr. Kadirgamar’s home in the capital’s diplomatic district.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting, which came amid growing tensions between the government and the rebels and a surge of attacks in the volatile eastern region.

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 a February 2002 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.

Mr. Kadirgamar, a close aide to President Chandrika Kumaratunga, was appointed foreign minister in April 2004. He previously held the position from 1994 to 2001.

Mrs. Kumaratunga rushed to the hospital after the shooting, and the military closed the road leading to the facility. Mrs. Kumaratunga herself was gravely wounded in an assassination attempt in 1999, and police blamed Tamil rebels for that attack.

Mr. Kadirgamar, a Tamil Christian, led an international campaign against the Tigers, who remain on terrorist lists in five countries, including the United States and Britain.

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.

Mr. 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 denies providing support to paramilitaries.

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