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Sri Lanka president blames rebels

Foreign Minister's assassination



Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's President Chandrika Kumaratunga has laid the blame for Friday's assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgama directly on the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Kadirgamar, 73, was gunned down late Friday by sniper fire that hit him in the head and chest at his Colombo home. He died later at a hospital in the capital.

As preparations for a state funeral in Colombo's Independence Square on Monday moved forward, Kumaratunga vowed to hunt down the killers.

In a televised address on Sunday night, Kumaratunga said Kadirgamar had joined "a long list of distinguished Tamil leaders ... murdered by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam)."

"This violation of the ceasefire is the latest in a continuous series of violations by the LTTE," she said.

The Tamil Tigers have denied any involvement, but police have already detained at least 14 people with suspected connections to the rebels.

Among those detained were the two owners of an abandoned home near Kadirgamar's house where a tripod used in the shooting was found, police said.

Authorities said they believed rebels had been watching Kadirgamar's movements from the bathroom of the neighboring home and said it appeared the snipers were based there for several days monitoring his comings and goings.

Early Saturday, in a statement posted on a pro-rebel Web site, the Tamil Tigers denied involvement in Kadirgamar's death and suggested the government should "look inwards for the culprits of the assassination."

Reuters reported that S.P. Thamilselvan, leader of the Tigers' political wing, told reporters in the northern rebel stronghold of Kilinochchi the Tigers condemned the killing and agreed it endangered the truce.

He called the accusations an effort to sully the Tigers' standing with the international community. The rebels want interim self-rule and a share of $3 billion in overseas tsunami aid.

Colombo remained under heavy security Sunday as police conducted house-to-house searches.

A state of emergency -- which gives police additional powers regarding arrests and detentions -- was declared in the wake of Kadirgamar's death.

Following the rebels' denial Saturday, a government spokesman said indications were that Tamil Tigers were responsible for the assassination. Police echoed those comments.

"This is a CFA (cease-fire agreement) violation on top of many others," Nimal Siripala Desilva said, in addition to being "a grave setback to the peace process."

The Indian Ocean island country has long been wracked by civil warfare with the Tamil Tigers pursuing a separate homeland in a nation dominated by ethnic Sinhalese.

The assassination is sure to further strain the shaky cease-fire agreement between Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The truce -- which has been in place since February 2002 -- has been threatened by recent violence and the suspension of talks in 2003.

Kadirgamar had angered the rebels by successfully campaigning for the international community -- including the United States and Great Britain -- to label the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organization.

Military sources said there had been repeated intelligence warnings on Kadirgamar's life, including one issued just last week. His security detail is the second largest in the nation, behind only the president's contingent.

An investigation is underway into how the assassination took place, given the extent of Kadirgamar's security detail. A senior security officer told CNN there had been a security lapse, but would not elaborate.

While Kadirgamar had created enemies within the Tamil Tigers, he participated in recent peace talks under President Kumaratunga. However he continued to oppose a number of key issues, including a separate Tamil homeland.

Earlier this month, two Tamil Tiger rebels were arrested outside Kadirgamar's official residence -- about a kilometer away from where he was shot -- after conducting surveillance and videotaping the area.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Kadirgamar's contemporary at Oxford University, was shocked by the murder of his friend, Reuters reported.

"I condemn this brutal and criminal act," said Clinton, who visited Sri Lanka recently as a U.N. tsunami aid envoy.

-- Journalist Iqbal Athas in Colombo contributed to this report

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