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Sri Lanka Prepares to Bury Foreign Minister, Suspects Arrested


Slideshow with Audio Report (Flash)

Sri Lankans are preparing to bury Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, who was assassinated Friday. Thousands of people have viewed his body, lying in state. Meanwhile, security forces have detained scores of suspects in the shooting.

Workers on Sunday set up the frames for tents that will shelter officials and diplomats from the sun during the foreign minister's state funeral Monday in Colombo's Independence Square. Nearby, others unloaded wood from a truck that will be used to cremate the body of Lakshman Kadirgamar.

The foreign minister was killed late Friday by a sniper who shot him, in his heavily protected home in the capital.

Officials blame the separatist Tamil Tiger guerilla group for the assassination, charges the rebels deny. Still, President Chandrika Kumaratunga says the government remains committed to a two-and-a-half-year-old peace plan that, lately, has shown signs of fraying.

A series of violent incidents have taken place in the north and east of the country in recent weeks, which the government and rebels each say the other provoked. In the latest incident, grenades were thrown at a Tamil Tiger office early Sunday, causing damage, but no injuries.

On Sunday, as hundreds of people filed past the body of Mr. Kadirgamar, which is lying in state, some questioned why the government wants to continue negotiations with the Tamil Tigers, also known as the LTTE.

"Peace is for the Tamil community, not for the LTTE. The LTTE want war," said Minister of Agriculture Douglas Devananda. "Without war they can't survive. The Tamil community wants peace. … 'Tigers' means animals, so how can you go toward the peace?"

The 73-year-old Mr. Kadirgamar was an ethnic Tamil, known for his hard-line stance against the rebels, with whom the government fought a bloody two-decade civil war. More than 60,000 people were killed.

The Tigers first demanded independence for the ethnic Tamil minority. But after a November 2002 cease-fire, brokered by Norway, they downgraded that demand to greater autonomy in predominantly Tamil parts of the country, which is the point at which peace talks have stalled.

Since then, the political equation has become more complicated, with rival factions emerging among the rebels. Analysts say that, if Tamil Tigers did assassinate the foreign minister, it could indicate the group's leaders have less control of the guerrillas.

"Maybe it is that the cease-fire has thrown them a lot of challenges," explained Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, who is with the Colombo research institution, the Center for Policy Alternatives. "They don't control things the way that they did before, both in terms of the civilian population, as well as within their own organization. [So] you need something to remind [people] as to what you're capable of."

Authorities have rounded up scores of people they suspect of involvement in the foreign minister's assassination. Roughly a thousand police are conducting house-to-house searches in the capital, because police say it is likely the assassins remain in the area.

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