Tamil Newspaper Columnist and Web Journalist Slain in Sri Lanka

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(AP) A top Tamil journalist whose articles favored the mainstream Tamil rebels over a breakaway faction was fatally shot hours after being seized by attackers at a restaurant in the capital, police and colleagues said Friday.

Dharmeratnam Sivaram, 46, a board member of the pro-rebel TamilNet Web site and a columnist for Sri Lanka’s English newspaper the Daily Mirror, was abducted by four unidentified men at the restaurant in Colombo late Thursday and taken away in a jeep, witnesses said.

His body was found Friday with gunshot wounds to the head in a shrub near a lake, police officer Ashoka Gunasekara said. A colleague and family members confirmed the identity of the body, which was gagged with a napkin.

No one claimed responsibility.

“We got an anonymous call saying a body was lying by the lake,” said H.A. Somaratne, a police officer at the scene. A spent cartridge from a 9 mm pistol was found near Sivaram’s body in Talangama, about six miles outside Colombo.

The government condemned the killing and ordered an investigation, vowing to capture the perpetrators.

Sivaram was Sri Lanka’s best-known Tamil Internet journalist and had been attacked and threatened in the past. In December 2001, he was stabbed and beaten by a group of men at his office in the eastern city of Batticaloa. No arrests were made.

His TamilNet Web site became popular for its reporting on the Sri Lankan civil war and the peace process after a 2002 cease-fire.

But the process has been complicated by an unprecedented split in the Tamil rebels that occurred in March 2004 when a former senior commander broke away with some 6,000 fighters, alleging that the mainstream faction discriminated against his eastern forces. Scores of people have been slain in connection with the rivalry.

Although Sivaram was from the east and close to the breakaway faction’s leader, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan, his articles favored the mainstream Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam or LTT.

Amirthanathan Adaikkalanathan, a lawmaker for the pro-rebel Tamil National Alliance, said Sivaram’s last article in the Tamil daily Virakesari was critical of Muralitharan.

“He was under threat from various quarters,” said Sivaram’s wife Bavani.

Lalith Alahakoon, chief editor of the Daily Mirror, said Sivaram — a columnist at the paper since its inception in 1996 — was “a very outspoken person and he did it within the parameters of freedom of expression.

“I have to condemn the killing, whoever may be responsible. He had been a good political analyst and had had a huge audience,” he said.

Sunanda Deshapriya, spokesman for Sri Lanka’s Free Media Movement, said the killing “brings the internecine violence into the fray and shows it targeting top journalists.”

Sivaram’s death marks the “latest in a series of violent acts and political killings” since the 2002 cease-fire, the government statement said. Several Sri Lankan journalists have been killed in recent years, but none of the attackers have been brought to justice.

As well as his wife, Sivaram leaves behind two daughters and a son.

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