A prominent Tamil politician was assassinated in the Sri Lankan capital yesterday, officials said, while a naval attack on two Tamil Tiger boats left six rebels dead.
Nadaraja Raviraj, a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), was leaving his house in Colombo when he was approached and shot at close range, said K. Sivajilingam, a fellow member of Parliament.
President Mahinda Rajapakse condemned the killing calling it a "cowardly and heinous act" by "those who are opposed to dissent and political pluralism in a democratic society."
Raviraj, who also worked as a lawyer and was going to court when he was attacked, died after being admitted to the National Hospital, said hospital director Anil Jasinghe.
One of Raviraj's guards who was also shot died on arrival, Jasinghe said.
Raviraj became mayor of Jaffna, the Tamil heartland, in 1999 following the assassination of his two predecessors.
He contested and won parliamentary elections under the rebel-backed TNA in 2001 and 2004 and was a leading campaigner for Tamil self rule.
Raviraj was among others who joined a demonstration outside a local UN aid office on Thursday, urging the agency to help protect thousands of refugees in the east who had fled their homes after military shelling killed at least 23 Tamil civilians on Wednesday.
The TNA said 41,000 Tamil civilians have been displaced in Batticaloa region.
The UN and a rights group denounced the attack by the military on Wednesday.
"The UN condemns in the strongest possible terms the shelling by the security forces of the government of Sri Lanka on the defenseless civilians sheltering in Kathiraveli School in Vaharai," the UN said in a statement late on Thursday.
"The killing and wounding of displaced persons is unjustifiable and a violation of the most basic humanitarian norms," it said.
The UN added that it is disturbed by reports that the rebels have prevented some 2,000 civilians from fleeing to safety.
Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan navy destroyed two Tamil Tiger naval boats early yesterday, killing six rebels, said navy spokesman, Commander D.K.P. Dassanayake.
A naval patrol detected the rebel boats mingling with dozens of boats of fishermen returning with their morning catch around 6am yesterday in the outer harbor of the northeastern port of Trincomalee, he said.
"We destroyed the two boats of the terrorists, which were laden with explosives as there were huge explosions," Dassanayake said.
The incident followed a clash at sea on Thursday in northern waters where the rebels said they killed at least 26 Sri Lankan sailors. Five rebels were also killed, and four sailors were captured alive, Tamil Tigers military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan said.
But Dassanayake said that only seven sailors were missing from Thursday's clash.
There is no way to reconcile the contradicting casualty figures, as no independent verification of the incidents was available.
Military spokesman Brigadier Prasad Samarasinghe said Thursday's clash erupted when the rebels tried to attack a ship transporting some 300 civilians from the eastern port town of Trincomalee to Jaffna. With the main road linking Jaffna with the mainland closed, the government was helping the civilians to reach their homes.
He said the navy, assisted by the air force, destroyed 22 of 26 rebel boats which had come to attack the ship, but he did not give any casualty figures.