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Sri Lanka Cremates Slain Foreign Minister Amid Peace Plan Fears

Sri Lanka's slain foreign minister was given a state funeral with full honors in the capital Colombo Monday. Prime Minister Mahendra Rajapakse used the occasion to condemn the separatist Tamil Tiger guerrilla group as terrorists for their suspected involvement in the killing.

A military marching band led the funeral cortege bearing the body of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar before dozens of assembled officials, dignitaries, and thousands of mourners who gathered Monday at Colombo's Independence Square.

As his flag-draped coffin lay beneath an awning in the center of the field, clergymen from the Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu faiths spoke about what they said was Mr. Kadirgamar's lifetime of service for Sri Lanka.

Speaking last, Prime Minister Mahindra Rajapakse blamed the separatist Tamil Tiger rebel group, known as the LTTE, for the killing. He said it was an act of terrorism committed against what he said was Sri Lanka's largely united multi-ethnic community. "It is this ground reality that the LTTE seeks to destroy," said the prime minister. "Their aim is to divide our country and destroy our democratic way of life, to which we stand firmly committed."

Later, the coffin bearing the foreign minister's body was placed inside a white tent lined with wood, which members of his family set on fire in Buddhist cremation rites.

Mr. Kadirgamar, 73, was shot by a sniper as he was leaving his swimming pool in his heavily protected house in Colombo late Friday.

The government blamed the assassination on the Tamil Tigers, with whom they fought an ethnically-driven civil war for more than two decades. The rebels had wanted independence for areas of the country where Sri Lanka's ethnic Tamil minority is predominant. More than 60,000 people were killed in the war.

The Tamil Tigers have denied they were involved in the killing. But the assassination has intensified fears that the November 2002 peace plan, brokered by Norwegian mediators, may be close to collapse.

The government and rebels have not met face to face since April 2003, but it was hoped that the devastation wrought by the December tsunami would spur the two sides to resume talks, first on the fair distribution of humanitarian aid across the country and then on the peace plan. More than 30,000 Sri Lankans died in the deadly waters.

Now, some Tamil community leaders charge that the government is blocking millions of dollars in financial assistance from reaching predominantly Tamil areas in the north and east of the country for their own political gain.

Sebastian Nehru is an administrative director at the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, an aid group that works throughout Sri Lanka. "They don't want the north and east to be developed," he said. "They want only the south to be developed. The reason is because the majority of the voting takes place in the south."

Norwegian officials say they will undertake a "serious review" of the peace process in light of the killing of the foreign minister.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who brushed aside security concerns by attending Mr. Kadirgamar's funeral, has said the government will abide by the cease-fire.