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State of emergency declared in Sri Lanka

Hard-line official gunned down; Tamil rebels suspected

From Iqbal Athas
Special to CNN

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Sri Lanka

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (CNN) -- Sri Lanka's government has declared a state of emergency hours after Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was killed outside his home by sniper fire that struck him in his head and chest.

Kadirgamar had just returned for a swim after attending a function for the release of a book he edited, police said.

As he walked toward the house from the pool about 11 p.m. (1 p.m. ET), three shots were fired, hitting Kadirgamar.

Police launched a massive manhunt for the killers, sealing off the capital and conducting house-to-house searches.

The Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) were immediately suspected in the shooting.

Earlier this month, two LTTE members were arrested outside Kadirgamar's official residence after allegedly conducting surveillance and videotaping the area.

Police said Kadirgamar's movements were followed from the bathroom of an abandoned, neighboring home. Inside the home, police found the tripod used in the shooting, military and police sources added.

They said the snipers appeared to have been in the home for several days, monitoring the foreign minister's comings and goings.

Military sources said there had been repeated intelligence warnings about Kadirgamar's life being in danger, including one issued just last week. His security detail is the second largest in the nation, behind only the president's contingent.

Kadirgamar, 73, had successfully campaigned for countries, including the United States and Britain, to recognize the LTTE as a terrorist organization.

Although he vehemently opposed negotiations with the group at one point, he participated in recent peace talks. He continued to oppose a number of key issues, however, including a separate Tamil homeland.

He is considered a close adviser to President Chandrika Kumaratunga.

He was rushed to National Hospital in Colombo for emergency surgery but died an hour later, according to hospital and police sources.

The assassination is bound to further strain the shaky cease-fire agreement between Sri Lanka's government and the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The truce, in place since February 2002, has been threatened by recent violence and the suspension of talks in 2003.

World leaders, including U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, were quick to condemn the killing.

"Sri Lanka has lost a deeply respected statesman dedicated to peace and national unity," Annan's spokesman said in a statement.

"The secretary-general hopes that this tragedy will not weaken the commitment of the people of Sri Lanka to achieve a durable peace in the country."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Kadirgamar "a man of dignity, honor and integrity, who devoted his life to bringing peace to Sri Lanka."

"This senseless murder was a vicious act of terror, which the United States strongly condemns. Those responsible must be brought to justice," she said in a written statement.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to the United Nations, Bernard Goonetilleke, said, "His contribution (to Sri Lanka) was immense."

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