Tamils fear fresh crackdown after minister’s assassination

WITH Sri Lanka’s foreign minister dead and the country under emergency rule, there is growing fear among the island’s minority Tamils that they may once again be targeted by security forces fighting Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Tigers have denied government claims they were behind Friday’s assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar - one of their most vociferous critics - and urged the military to look within its own ranks for the perpetrator. But nearly everyone seems to agree the murder was a severe blow to Sri Lanka’s peace process.

Now, ethnic Tamils who live outside areas controlled by the rebels in the north and east of the country say they could be faced with a nightmare scenario - the peace process collapsing and taking with it a measure of security Tamils have enjoyed since a 2002 ceasefire.

“There is fear everywhere. We are not as confident to go out to the road as we used to do,” said F Lawrence, a Tamil-speaking advertising professional who lives in a suburb of the capital, Colombo. But within hours of Friday’s shooting, a state of emergency went into effect and soldiers and police began scouring the capital for suspects.

Twelve Tamils have so far been arrested in connection with the killing, which the rebels deny being involved in - a statement government officials doubt.

Police, however, have been unwilling to provide any details on the suspects, and Tamils fear the detentions could hint at a broader round-up of members of their community.

“The Tigers have denied that they killed the minister, but the government wants to take cover under this and harass the Tamils,” said Sriharan Prasanna, a 27-year-old businessman.

“We don’t mind security checks as long as they are fair,” he added.

Security officials on Sunday tried to assuage Tamil fears, saying they simply wanted to track down the killers. “We evaluate the intelligence before raiding a home,” said Sri Lanka’s police chief, Chandra Fernando. “We are not discriminating against anybody, this is sadly mistaken.”

Yesterday, more than 1,000 soldiers and police were deployed in Colombo ahead of Mr Kadirgamar’s state funeral.

Dozens of anti-terrorist commandos were posted at intersections.

The government declared yesterday a day of mourning and ordered all schools, cinemas, liquor shops and meat-selling stalls to close as a mark of respect.

Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority is made up mainly of Buddhists and accounts for about 14 million people. They dominate the military and police. The Hindu Tamils, in contrast, number about 3.2 million, and are concentrated in the country’s north and east and in the tea-growing hills of central Sri Lanka. About 2.8 million live outside rebel-held regions.

The Tigers waged a bloody campaign for nearly two decades. They were among the first modern groups to use suicide bombings, killing numerous officials, including Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi in 1991 and Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa two years later.

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