Row over Sri Lanka editor's murder grows

Sri Lanka’s government censured a senior international diplomat after he spoke at the funeral of a newspaper editor whose murder has been blamed on the island’s rulers, officials said on Wednesday.

German ambassador Jurgen Weerth was ordered to the Colombo foreign office and told of Sri Lanka’s anger over his graveside eulogy for Lasantha Wickrematunga, officials who declined to be named told Agence France-Presse.

Wickrematunga, who was shot by unknown gunmen as he drove to work, was the editor of the Sunday Leader and was fiercely critical of government policy, especially its bloody and costly war against Tamil rebels.

“Weerth was summoned to the Foreign Ministry on Tuesday and the Foreign Secretary [Palitha Kohona] expressed Sri Lanka’s displeasure and concern over his remarks,” a source at the ministry said.

He said the government felt that the funeral had been turned into a political event. There was no immediate comment from the German embassy in Colombo.

Weerth, who is the dean of Colombo-based diplomats, said in his brief eulogy that the diplomats had failed to speak out earlier in support of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

“Today is a day when one remains speechless,” Weerth said at the funeral on Monday. “Maybe we should have spoken before this.
Today it is too late.

“Today is a day when humanity has lost a major voice of truth. But he will live in his work.”

Sri Lanka’s opposition has demanded an international probe into the killing, which drew condemnation from the United States, the European Union and many media rights groups, but the government has rejected the call.

Wickrematunga’s newspaper has been strongly anti-establishment and regularly savaged the escalating military offensive against the insurgent Tamil Tigers.

He was shot at close range near Colombo as he drove to work last Thursday. His attackers escaped even though the murder took place in an area near an airbase where the military has a large security presence.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has strongly denied any government involvement and told Colombo-based foreign correspondents on Monday that he was determined to bring the killers to justice.

But Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontières said Rajapakse’s government was directly to blame for the death of the editor as it had “incited hatred against him”.

Some newspapers in Sri Lanka have accused the authorities of ordering the murder.

“The manner in which the killing was carried out seems to point directly at the government,” the privately-run Island newspaper said in a commentary on Sunday.

Wickrematunga was shot two days after unidentified attackers torched the private Maharajah TV network offices near the city.—AFP

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