Minister shot dead as he finishes swim

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The Independent Online

The Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency amid concerns that the killing could reignite the two- decades-old conflict between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels that has already cost more than 64,000 lives.

The Sri Lankan government accused the Tigers of being behind the killing of Lakshman Kadirgamar, 73, who was shot in the head and chest as he emerged from his swimming pool. He died later in hospital. The Oxford law graduate, who was appointed Foreign Minister in April 2004 after having already held the position from 1994 to 2001, was killed by two snipers who hid at his heavily guarded home in the capital, Colombo.

The Tigers denied any involvement in the killing, and said that the new state of emergency was endangering the ceasefire.

Military vehicles have moved into the capital, Colombo, and soldiers are setting up roadblocks. All cars coming into the city are being checked. The authorities can deploy troops freely, and security forces can hold suspects without charge, and search and demolish buildings. The President, Chandrika Kumaratunga, called "for calm and restraint".

Hagrup Haukland, the head of the Norwegian mission that monitors the ceasefire, said: "I'm sure that the ceasefire is in danger more than ever before."

For two decades, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have been fighting for a separate state in the Tamil-dominated north of Sri Lanka, objecting to rule by the Sinhalese majority. While the ceasefire has held, Sri Lanka has to some extent been able to put the horrors of the civil war behind it. However, peace talks have been a stuttering affair, and the Tamil Tigers have been warning that the ceasefire is in danger.

The Sri Lankan Prime Minister, Mahinda Rajapaksa, yesterday openly accused the Tigers of being behind the killing of Mr Kadirgama. "We strongly condemn this act which, according to security sources, has been perpetrated by the LTTE," he said.

The head of the Tamil Tigers' political wing, SP Thamilselvan, said: "We also know that there are sections within the Sri Lankan armed forces operating with a hidden agenda to sabotage the cease-fire agreement," he said.