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Row over Lankan editor's killing as German ambassador speaks out at journalist's funeral

Row over Lankan editor's killing as German ambassador speaks out
Sonali Samarasinghe, centre left, wife of Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga pays last respects near his body in the suburbs of Colombo, Sri Lanka, Monday, January 12, 2009. Wickramatunga, who was harshly critical of the government, was shot and killed by gunmen riding motorcycles as he drove to work Thursday morning.Photo: Associated Press (AP) / Gemunu Amarasinghe

Sri Lanka's government censured a senior international diplomat after he spoke at the funeral of a newspaper editor whose murder has been blamed on the island's rulers, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Wednesday.

German ambassador Jurgen Weerth was ordered to the Colombo foreign office and told of Sri Lanka's anger over his graveside eulogy for Lasantha Wickrematunga, officials who declined to be named told AFP.

Wickrematunga, who was shot by unknown gunmen as he drove to work, was the editor of the Sunday Leader and was fiercely critical of government policy, especially its bloody and costly war against Tamil rebels.

The AFP report said: [Link]

"Weerth was summoned to the foreign ministry on Tuesday and the Foreign Secretary (Palitha Kohona) expressed Sri Lanka's displeasure and concern over his remarks," a source at the ministry said. He said the government felt that the funeral had been turned into a political event. There was no immediate comment from the German embassy in Colombo.

Weerth, who is the dean of Colombo-based diplomats, said in his brief eulogy that the diplomats had failed to speak out earlier in support of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

"Today is a day when one remains speechless," Weerth said at the funeral Monday. "Maybe we should have spoken before this. Today it is too late."Today is a day when humanity has lost a major voice of truth. But he will live in his work."

Sri Lanka's opposition has demanded an international probe into the killing, which drew condemnation from the US, the European Union and many media rights groups, but the government has rejected the call.

Wickrematunga's newspaper has been strongly anti-establishment and regularly savaged the escalating military offensive against the insurgent Tamil Tigers. He was shot at close range near Colombo as he drove to work on Thursday. His attackers escaped even though the murder took place in an area near an airbase where the military has a large security presence.

President Mahinda Rajapakse has strongly denied any government involvement and told Colombo-based foreign correspondents on Monday that he was determined to bring the killers to justice.

Date posted: January 14, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 369