ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 24

He asked “why are you silent”; the next day he was silenced

By Asif Fuard

Despite the much bragged-about tight security in Colombo, a leading Tamil politician was gunned down in broad daylight, underscoring the volatile situation in the capital.

Nadaraja Raviraj, the outspoken Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian, was killed on Friday morning at Borella and the assassination took place against the backdrop of rising abductions, disappearances and killings that have raised alarm in international human rights circles.

Mr. Raviraj, a former mayor of Jaffna, was elected to parliament from his hometown Jaffna. During his short tenure as MP, he played an active role as a champion of Tamil rights. He participated in television debates where he was seen as the voice of the Tamils and was in the forefront of protest rallies against human rights excesses. A day before his tragic death at the hand of a mystery killer, who managed to escape after committing the heinous crime, he attended a TNA demonstration outside the United Nations’ Colombo office, carrying a board which read “UNHCR-UNICEF why are you silent” (over the killing of scores of Tamils in Vakarai in the Army shelling on Wednesday and the worsening humanitarian situation in Jaffna).

Raviraj participating at the TNA demonstration outside the United Nations’ Colombo office one day before he was slain. Pic by Athula Devapriya

Mr. Raviraj who often went around with only one bodyguard from the Ministerial Security Division had on many occasions come close to harm’s way.

In April this year, he made a complaint to the Kantalai police saying his car was pelted with stones by a mob when he was returning from Trincomalee after attending the funeral of V. Vignesvaran the president of the Trincomalee District Tamil Peoples Forum

The incident took place at Abeyapura, a Sinhala settlement in the suburbs of Trincomalee where the mob had stopped the car in which Raviraj was travelling.

Though he was a member of the TNA, a political mouthpiece of the LTTE, he had criticised the rebel group, especially on issues related to children in the north.

In an interview, Mr. Raviraj said that LTTE leader Prabhakaran's children were leading a comfortable life abroad, but poor Tamil children had to wait in long queues all day to get a loaf of bread without even going to school.
"This is the sad plight that has befallen thousands of children living in the country's North. While children of bigwigs live a plush comfortable life on foreign soil. That inlcudes the children of LTTE leader Prabhakaran," he said.

A family in shock and grief. Pic by Berty Mendis

On Friday morning, Mr. Raviraj, a lawyer by profession, after finishing an interview with Derana television, left his home at Matha Mawatha, Narahenpita for his office in Hulftsdorp in his Purple Prado. He had made a turn to come to the opposite lane where the gunmen had been waiting.

According to eyewitnesses, the assassins had come in a three wheeler and fired at the MP and then escaped on a motor cycle. They had brought the T-56 assault rifle hidden in a cricket bag.

After emptying the magazine on the MP, the assassins had dropped the weapon and fled the scene. Minutes later soldiers had arrived at the scene and had taken the injured MP and his bodyguard in a van that was parked on the side of a road. They cleared the path for the driver to go to the National Hospital. Mr. Raviraj who was critically wounded died minutes after he was brought to hospital while his bodyguard is believed to have died on the spot.

In the wake of Friday’s assassination, LTTE leader Prabhakaran has conferred the group’s highest award, Mahamanithar (Great Human being), on Mr. Raviraj for his work and dedication with which he served the Tamil people.

“In recognition of, Mr Nadaraja Raviraj’s love of freedom, his patriotism and his services to our freedom struggle, I am proud to bestow the title of Mamanithar on him. Death never destroys the great souls who lived their lives for truth. They will live for ever in our nation’s soul as heroes of our history,” Mr. Prabhakaran said in a statement.

The killing condemned

The assassination of the firebrand TNA parliamentarian Nadrajah Raviraj has drawn widespread condemnation from leaders, political parties and the international community.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa: The killing was “a cowardly and heinous act'” by “those opposed to dissent and political pluralism in a democratic society.”

The US Embassy: “We express our deepest sympathy for this loss to the family of Raviraj, to his parliamentary colleagues, and to the people of Sri Lanka, who have been unjustly robbed of his energy and talent. It is critical that crimes such as the murder of Raviraj not go unpunished."

Opposition UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe: “it is of paramount importance that an independent inquiry should be held on the killing and the culprits apprehended”.

The JVP: “We don’t agree with the political views of Mr. Raviraj. However, we respect the democratic right he has to hold such views. It is the political heritage of murderous separatist Tiger terrorists to savagely murder their political enemies”.

The EPDP: “The party under no circumstances believes that problems whether ethnic or otherwise can be solved by resorting to violence or killings.”

The Socialist Alliance: “This senseless killing brings to the fore the suspicion that an unforeseen hand is operating to further complicate the efforts to find a speedy solution to the ethnic problem”.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.