Sri Lanka clears spies of killing Tamil MP

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A Sri Lankan court yes­ter­day ac­quit­ted five men, in­clud­ing three navy in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers, charged with as­sas­si­nat­ing an op­po­si­tion Tamil leg­is­la­tor whose party im­me­di­ately raised con­cerns about ju­di­cial in­tegrity. Nadaraja Ravi­raj, who rep­re­sented the Tamil Na­tional Al­liance (TNA), was shot dead in 2006 along with his body­guard as they drove out of his home in Colombo, two and a half years be­fore the end of the coun­try’s Tamil sep­a­ratist war.

Ravi­raj had been a staunch critic of then-pres­i­dent Mahinda Ra­japakse’s no-holds-barred of­fen­sive that crushed Tamil rebels and prompted al­le­ga­tions that up to 40,000 Tamil civil­ians were killed by troops. The court heard tes­ti­mony that a navy in­tel­li­gence unit, which op­er­ated near Ra­japakse’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence, had car­ried out the as­sas­si­na­tion.

The Colombo High Court dis­charged the sus­pects, three of whom were tried in ab­sen­tia, in a judg­ment de­liv­ered past mid­night on Fri­day af­ter a month-long trial. One of those tried in ab­sen­tia-a po­lice of­fi­cer-has re­port­edly fled the coun­try and is said to be liv­ing in Aus­tralia. “The jury’s de­ci­sion was that the ac­cused can­not be con­victed based solely on the fact that they were iden­ti­fied (by) sev­eral wit­nesses in the case,” the state-run Daily News said.

TNA spokesman and fel­low mem­ber of par­lia­ment MA Su­man­thi­ran said the ac­quit­tal con­firmed their fears that the vic­tim could not ex­pect a fair trail by a jury con­sist­ing only of those be­long­ing to the ma­jor­ity Sin­hala-speak­ing com­mu­nity. “It be­came an us (ma­jor­ity Sin­halese) ver­sus them (mi­nor­ity Tamils) is­sue and shows we were right to ob­ject to this jury, but our po­si­tion was re­jected by the judge,” Su­man­thi­ran told AFP.

He said the court ver­dict un­der­scored the need for in­de­pen­dent in­ter­na­tional ju­di­cial ex­perts to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of war crimes dur­ing the 37-year-long Tamil sep­a­ratist war which ended in May 2009. He added that the five men were charged with ex­e­cut­ing the as­sas­si­na­tion, but those who had or­dered it were still at large. Hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have ac­cused govern­ment forces of killing po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents and sus­pected Tamil rebel sym­pa­thiz­ers dur­ing Ra­japakse’s rule. Sri Lanka’s new govern­ment, which came to power in Jan­uary last year promis­ing ac­count­abil­ity for wartime atroc­i­ties and eth­nic rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, has so far re­fused to al­low in­ter­na­tional judges in any war crimes probe. — AFP

AMRITSAR: An In­dian school­boy wear­ing a ‘Santa Claus’ out­fit is mobbed by class­mates as he gives out sweets dur­ing Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tions at a school in Amritsar yes­ter­day. Although In­dian Chris­tians make up a mere two per­cent of the coun­try’s bil­lion plus pop­u­la­tion, Christ­mas has be­come a pop­u­lar fes­ti­val in the In­dian cal­en­dar. — AFP

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