Tue, Nov 14, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Security high during march for slain Tamil lawmaker


A Tamil-owned shop is closed as anti-war protesters called for a day of mourning and protest against the assassination of Tamil legislator Nadarajah Raviraj, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday.


Army soldiers in larger numbers were deployed in the Sri Lankan capital yesterday ahead of a march in memory of a Tamil lawmaker assassinated last week by unidentified gunmen.

The National Anti-War Front -- a coalition of 120 civic groups, human rights organizations and opposition political parties -- also called for a shutdown of Colombo yesterday to protest increasing violence in the country.

"We have already called in the army to help us in case there is a security need," police spokesman Rienzie Perera said, as traffic police closed some roads in the city.

Nadaraja Raviraj, a lawmaker from the pro-rebel Tamil National Alliance party, was assassinated and his bodyguard also killed in Colombo on Friday.

The Tamil party has blamed the government for the killing -- an accusation the administration has denied.

March organizers said the procession with Raviraj's body will culminate in a mass gathering at a popular city park.

Many fear that attacks and killings, which have been occurring on an almost daily basis, are driving the country back toward full-scale war, though the government and Tamil Tigers both say a 2002 ceasefire, which had halted two decades of civil war, is still in place.

A dispute continued to simmer yesterday over how the lawmaker's body would be taken home. His family and a pro-rebel party want the government to open the key A-9 highway so Raviraj's body can be driven to his hometown of Chavakachcheri in northern Jaffna peninsula.

The government has refused to reopen the vital artery that links the country's south to the rebel-controlled north, saying it would allow the guerrillas to transport weapons and fighters. The government closed down the highway on Aug. 11 after rebels attacked a military checkpoint.

"Interested parties should not make the opening of the A-9 road an issue for narrow political gain," chief government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said.

The government has said that it was willing to fly Raviraj's body to Jaffna for cremation, but the family and his party have yet to agree.

The cremation is scheduled for tomorrow.

The failure of talks on reopening the key road led to the collapse of peace talks in Switzerland last month aimed at salvaging the 2002 ceasefire.

Meanwhile, the military yesterday accused the Tamil Tiger rebels of killing two Tamil civilians -- aged 15 and 21 -- in Jaffna on Sunday. The motive behind the killings was not immediately known.

The Tamil Tigers began fighting in 1983 in a bid to carve out a separate homeland in the country's north and east for the minority Tamils, who cite discrimination by the ethnic Sinhalese majority.

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