Mon, Aug 15, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Sri Lanka on the hunt for killers

AFP , COLOMBO

Sri Lanka yesterday rounded up scores of potential suspects during a massive hunt for Tamil Tiger rebels suspected of gunning down the foreign minister in an attack that has strained an already shaky ceasefire.

Some 1,000 police were deployed for a house-to-house search after the assassination of Lakshman Kadirgamar, shot dead Friday in the highest-level political killing in this island nation in more than a decade.

"We don't think the attackers were able to get out of the area," police chief Chandra Fernando said. "If we have the cooperation of the public, we can get at the killers."

Deputy police Inspector General Pujith Jayasundara said "scores" of people were detained and questioned but no one had been formally arrested over the killing that prompted the government to declare a state of emergency on Saturday.

"We have not been able to get at the murder weapon yet," Jayasundara told reporters. "We are also a long way from making any arrests. But we are detaining people. We question them. And we release them."

Defense ministry spokesman Daya Ratnayake said 12 people, including a woman, were detained by troops overnight and handed over to police.

The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has denied any involvement in the murder of Kadirgamar, an ethnic Tamil and rebel critic whom authorities had said in the past was a prime target for assassination.

Dozens of mourners paid their last respects to the Oxford-educated minister at his Colombo home, where troops in ceremonial gear stood by his coffin yesterday ahead of a funeral today to be attended by foreign dignitaries.

Kadirgamar spearheaded a campaign that led to the Tigers being outlawed abroad, including in the US and Britain. He was one of the most tightly protected ministers with nearly 100 elite bodyguards.

But Fernando said the minister had ignored warnings that his private home was not safe. The snipers, who shot him three times in the head and chest, had set up shop in an upper floor toilet of a neighboring house.

"The minister told me that the neighbors were very reliable people," Fernando said, adding that at least two Tamil Tiger rebels were involved in the killing.

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