SRI LANKA: Pro-LTTE newspaper distributor murdered

While the military says the killing was most likely part of an LTTE factional dispute, editor says paper reported on military violence

By Arthur Rhodes
AsiaMedia Contributing Writer

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Colombo --- On June 27 a distributor of the pro-LTTE newspaper Eelanatham was shot and killed in the eastern province of Sri Lanka. Kannamuthu Arasakumar was killed in the morning while traveling along the main road between the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. He was en route to Ampara where he distributed papers to local shops and businesses.

The shooting occurred between the towns of Oluvil and Adappallam, an area of the East that is currently under the control of the Sri Lankan Armyís Special Task force.

Military spokesman, Brig. Daya Ratnayake, told the press that the killing was "most likely linked to the dispute between the LTTE and the breakaway rebel faction lead by Colonel Karuna." Karuna, once a top-ranking soldier in the Tiger Military, and about 6,000 soldiers split from the main body last year. The two factions have been involved in a bloody struggle for dominance in the eastern province ever since.

Eelanatham editor T. Venugopal says that his office had received a threatening phone call a month prior to the shooting. The caller said "that anyone working for the paper was in danger of being killed," reports Venugopal. He believes that the murder was motivated by Eelanatham's coverage of violence by the military.

"This is not the first time that we have been threatened," he says. "People do not like us because we tell the real story of what is happening here in the north and east. In Colombo people here about the LTTE killings, but they have no idea what is really happening here. They do not know what their army is doing. They still kill just the same as before."

Because the area in which his employee was killed is under Special Task Force control, Venugopal believes that the military must have played a role in the murder. "They monitor everyone that comes in and out of the area. They know what is happening in that area always. The killers must have had help from the army, or at least soldiers must have known about it."

Ratanayake says that the army had no prior knowledge or involvement in Arasakumarís murder. "There have been over 435 killings since the ceasefire," he says. "Ninety percent have been in the Batticaloa-Ampara area. We are working very hard to prevent these killings. In fact we stop more murders than actually occur.

Ratanayake says he believes the Karuna faction and the LTTE are perpetrators of violence. "This time they killed an LTTE newspaper man to stop their information from reaching supporters, but tomorrow it could be clergyman or schoolteacher. They will kill anyone that challenges their power," he says.

Tamil journalist, Dharmeratnam Sivaram, was murdered on Apr. 28. Vengopal says that while the killers may have been different people, he believes their motives were the same. "We tell the true story of what is happening in this country like Sivaram did. Some people do not like that, and they will stop us if they can."

Arasakumar was the father of three children.