SRI LANKA: Journalist Sivaram murder suspect arrested

Police detain organizer for the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam

By Arthur Rhodes
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Monday, June 13, 2005

Colombo -- Colombo Police have arrested two men in connection with the Apr. 28th murder of well-known Tamil Journalist Dharmaratnam Sivaram. According to D.S.S. Lugoda, Director of the Colombo Crime Division, the two men were arrested early this morning in Maharagama after evidence linking them to Sivaram's stolen mobile phone led officers to their location.

Arumugam Sri Skandarajan, alias "Peter", and Veluthan Nallanather were taken into custody without incident. Skandarajan was in possession of Sivaram's mobile phone SIM card. A vehicle believed to have been used in the kidnapping and murder was also confiscated at the time of arrest.

Skandarajan is a Colombo area organizer and vehicle driver for the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE). According to police, the vehicle allegedly used in the assassination belongs to the PLOTE. Skandarajan, a member of PLOTE since the early 1980's, spent five and a half years in prison for his part in the attempted 1983 coup against the government of the Maldives. As of yet, there is no specific information regarding Nallanather. Police say, however, they have no clear evidence linking him to the murder and he may soon be released.

In his statement to the police, Skandarajan claims to have been approached by an associate on the evening of Sivaram's murder. The man wished to borrow the PLOTE vehicle, which Skandarajan usually drove for the organization. When the car was returned to him early the next day, he was given Sivaram's SIM card and told to monitor and record all incoming calls. According to Lugoda, the murderers wished to know with whom Sivaram was in communication.

Lugoda said that the suspect had been under investigation since the 2nd of this month and that he was located by an examination of Sivaram's telephone records.

The People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam was founded as a pro-separatist militant group in 1980. Although originally considered a terrorist organization, PLOTE legitimized their organization by winning seats in Parliament in 1994 (they currently hold no seats).

They are bitterly opposed to the more prominent Tamil group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and their claim to be the sole voice of the Tamil people.

Sivaram began working with the People's Liberation Organization of Tamil Eealm in 1982 when he joined the Ghandian Movement, an organization affiliated with PLOTE. After the eruption of the ethnic conflict in 1983, Sivaram became an active PLOTE militant. In 1988 he was appointed General Secretary of the Democratic People's Liberation Front (DPLF), the political wing of the PLOTE. He left the front in 1989 amidst ideological differences with the party's founder, Kathriagamar Uma Maheswaran. Sivaram was often fiercely criticized for promoting what many see as a "pro-LTTE" agenda in his reporting.

Kawon, secretary to PLOTE leader D. Sidarthan, said when contacted by AsiaMedia today that he was unaware of any arrest. "But our party had no intention to kill Sivaram," he said. "We have never had any reason to kill him. He left us over 15 years ago. If "Peter" has been arrested it is based on false information probably provided by the LTTE." Kawon said that Sivaram was initially in support of Colonel Karuna when he split from the main LTTE body in the winter of 2004, but that he shifted his support back to the main body soon thereafter. "So you see both would have a reason to kill him much more than us," he said.

Another PLOTE member, known only as RR, is also being sought in connection with the murder, police said. He is expected to be apprehended in the coming days.

In his statement, Skandarjan claimed that the PLOTE had no involvement in the assassination.