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Sri Lanka 15 June 2005

Arrest of suspect in TamilNet editor’s murder seen as encouraging

Reporters Without Borders welcomed the arrest of a suspect in the murder of Dharmeratnam Sivaram "Taraki", editor of the news website TamilNet and Daily Mirror columnist and urged the government to step up its efforts in the investigation.

After more than a month and a half of inactivity, police appear to have made progress in their investigation into the abduction and murder of D. Sivaram by arresting a man found with the chip from the journalist’s mobile phone, the organisation said.

Four men seized the 46-year-old journalist on 28 April as he was leaving a Colombo bar with friends just a few metres from the Bambalapitya police station. His body was found the following day in the Himbulala district close to parliament. He had been killed with a single bullet to the head and bore marks of a beating.

While welcoming the arrest, Reporters Without Borders stressed that it was essential to identify the killers and the instigators of the murder and to find the motive for this killing of one of the country’s best known Tamil journalists.

The organisation said it expected police to inform the press about the latest developments and that they would leave no stone unturned in pursuing their inquiries.

It also urged the international community to increase pressure on Colombo to end the impunity enjoyed by killers of journalists and human rights activists.

Although police have not officially announced it, the suspect, Arumugam Sri Skandarajan, also known as "Peter" was arrested near Colombo on 13 June in possession of the chip from D. Sivaram’s mobile phone. Police, led by the Superintendent Sarath Lugoda, have also found a vehicle that was apparently used in the kidnapping and apparently belonging to an official of the Tamil party PLOTE.

The arrested man is also a former armed militant of this movement which clashed violently with the LTTE in the 1990s. He apparently spent several years in prison in the 1980s for his involvement in a coup attempt in the Maldives.

Journalists in Colombo said the suspect has reportedly told police that he was contacted by an "associate" and asked to borrow a PLOTE vehicle before the murder of D. Sivaram. He was given the mobile phone chip so he could check on the origin of calls the journalist received.

He was taken before a judge in Kaduwela on 14 June, who gave police permission to keep him in custody for continued questioning until 20 June. Another man arrested by police, Veluthan Nallanather, was freed for lack of evidence. The court banned the press from naming the two arrested men.

Some journalists in Colombo were treating the arrest with caution. "This tells us nothing about the instigators of the murder", one said. "Police might be tempted to deflect attention from the implication in the murder of Tamil warlord Karuna’s henchmen," said the journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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