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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Ltte Attack Kills Minister, 13 Others

VZCZCXRO5055
OO RUEHBI
DE RUEHLM #0352/01 0981050
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 071050Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7970
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0825
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 7818
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 6001
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 4341
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1948
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 4340
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3436
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 8425
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5899
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0609
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2703
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000352

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER ASEC PGOV PHUM PREL CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: LTTE ATTACK KILLS MINISTER, 13 OTHERS
AT MARATHON RACE

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Sri Lanka's Minister for Highways (and
Chief Government Whip in Parliament), Jeyaraj Fernandopulle,
and 13 others were killed by a suicide bomb blast on April 6
at about 8 am local time, just before the start of a marathon
race about 25 kilometers northeast of Colombo. Also killed
in the blast were Olympic marathoner K.A. Karunaratne and
National Athletic Coach Lakshman de Alwis. A vituperative
critic of the Tamil Tigers, Fernandopulle, an ethnic Tamil,
has long been a target of the LTTE. Post issued a statement
forcefully condemning the attack. This attack will likely
reinforce public support for the government's military
campaign, and bolster those who argue that the LTTE is not
interested in peace. End summary.

2. (SBU) 250 marathon runners were assembled when the blast
occurred. According to one account, a suicide bomber dressed
as a runner came forward and embraced the Minister,
detonating an explosive device hidden in his jersey. A
review of video footage was inconclusive, but it appears that
the perpetrator may have been one of many people, not in
athletic gear, but wearing loose clothing, who were standing
near the minister. According to press reports, a police
constable on duty said no security checks were conducted at
the event (although Fernandopulle was presumably accompanied
by his normal ministerial security detail). Local hospitals
reported receiving up to 90 wounded, some in serious
condition. Also killed in the blast were K.A. Karunaratne,
the former national marathon champion and Olympic marathon
runner, and Lakshman de Alwis, the National Athletic Coach.
Several runners were among the dead and wounded. No
Americans were among the victims, as best we can ascertain.

3. (SBU) Fernandopulle was the third Member of Parliament
and second Minister to be killed in Sri Lanka in 2008. A
vituperative critic of the Tamil Tigers, Fernandopulle, an
ethnic Tamil, has long been a target of the LTTE, who are the
most likely perpetrators of this assassination. A week
before his death, Fernandopulle supported the GSL's
controversial decision not to disarm the TMVP in advance of
the Eastern Provincial Council elections. Fernandopulle
cited the TMVP's need to protect themselves from the LTTE.
The Minister was a brash, outspoken defender of President
Rajapaksa's government, known for seizing the limelight in
Parliament, thereby offending some of his party colleagues.
He has made a number of intemperate, off-the-cuff comments in
the past year, once calling UN Under Secretary for
Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes "a terrorist." Although he
numbered many Americans among his friends, Fernandopulle did
not spare the U.S. in these opportunistic attacks. Just
before his death, he gave an interview to the website "Asian
Tribune" in which he (incorrectly) accused the U.S. and
Norway of secretly supporting the opposition in the Eastern
Provincial Council elections due May 10.

4. (U) Post issued the following statement on April 7:
(begin text):

"The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attack on
April 6 in Weliweriya, Gampaha District that claimed the life
of Minister of Highways and Road Development and Chief
Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. Also killed in this
heinous attack were National Athletic Coach Lakshman de
Alwis, well-known marathon runner K.A. Karunaratne, and
several other persons, while scores more were injured.
Minister Fernandopulle was a friend and valued colleague for
many Americans. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the
families and friends of the victims and to all Sri Lankans
for this tragic loss.

The United States denounces this vicious and reprehensible
terrorist attack on civilians in the strongest possible
terms. Its perpetrators have achieved nothing other than to
cause further suffering among the people of Sri Lanka. Only

COLOMBO 00000352 002 OF 002


a political solution, not continued violence, offers the way
forward to end the country's conflict." (end text)

5. (SBU) Comment: The Tamil Tigers, as usual, have not
claimed responsibility for the bombing, but most observers
reckon they are by far the most likely perpetrators of this
attack. Fernandopulle had accumulated a number of enemies in
his career, but none other than the LTTE who would have the
technical means and the will to carry out such a brazen
assassination in the full knowledge that it would cause many
casualties among the innocent bystanders. To post's
knowledge, it is the first time the LTTE has targeted a
sporting event, particularly one attended by a beloved
national sports figure. The relative lack of security at the
event rendered the Minister a soft target. This attack will
likely reinforce public support for the government's military
campaign, and bolster the argument that the LTTE is not
interested in peace.
BLAKE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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