Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Gunned Down, Rebels Suspected

Justice Minister John Senevirathne told reporters outside the National Hospital in Colombo, according to Reuters, ”The foreign minister passed away.”

“He worked tirelessly for peace throughout his career. It is a great loss.”

Kadirgamar, a close confidant of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, died after being shot repeatedly, including twice in the head, according to police sources.

Although police did not say who might have been behind the killing, media reports quickly centered on separatist Tamil Tigers.

Local media reported that earlier this month two members of the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) were arrested outside Kadirgamar’s official residence — about a kilometer away from where he was shot Friday — after conducting surveillance and videotaping the area. Officials did not immediately confirm those reports.

Police flooded the area immediately after the shooting, searching the diplomatic district of Colombo where Kadirgamar was shot, as helicopters circled overhead.

The foreign minister, who was an ethnic Tamil, supported the government’s long-held policy of not negotiating with the Tigers. Kadirgamar also helped lead an international campaign to have the LTTE listed as a terrorist organization.

It was these hard-line policies, experts say, that prompted the Tamil Tigers to try and kill President Kumaratunga in 1999. Although she survived the attack with serious wounds, 26 other people died.

The Tigers and the government entered into a tentative cease-fire in 2002, ending more than 20 years of bloody fighting that saw the first use of widespread suicide bombings and the deaths of some 65,000 Sri Lankans.

Although widespread fighting has ended, differences over how the country would divide up the billions of dollars of foreign aid that poured into the country following the devastating tsunami of December 2004 that killed at least 38,000 in Sri Lanka had threatened to derail the peace process.

The Tamil Tigers in late June agreed to join the government in sharing and distributing the tsunami relief, but expressed frustration at delays in getting relief to Tamil regions.

More recently, the Tigers had warned that unless the government did more to disarm militants they say have been operating in the eastern part of the country and attacking Tamil communities, the group may take up arms again.

The LTTE have been fighting an armed conflict since 1983, seeking an independent ethnic state on the South Asian island. Talks aimed at finding a political solution stalled in 2003.