Gunmen shot and killed a pro-rebel legislator during midnight Christmas Mass, the government said Sunday, as escalating violence continued to threaten a shaky cease-fire.
Joseph Pararajasingham, 71, was fatally shot at St. Michael’s Church in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka’s main town, military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said. His wife and eight others were wounded.
The lawmaker’s bodyguards returned fire, but it was not known if any of the assailants were wounded.
Pararajasingham represented the Tamil National Alliance, a proxy party of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the rebel group that wants to create a homeland for Sri Lanka’s 3.2 million ethnic Tamil minority in the country’s northeast. A breakaway faction of the rebels is opposed to the alliance.
Batticaloa suffered during the bloody rebel split in 2004, when the Tigers’ eastern branch broke away from the main movement. The uprising was ruthlessly suppressed, but sympathy for its leader remains strong.
A pro-rebel Web site reported the incident without comment. There was no claim of responsibility.
Dozens killed in past month
Violence has escalated in the rebel-held northeast since the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran threatened last month to resume his struggle for a Tamil homeland if the government fails to address Tamil grievances.
In December, at least 34 government security personnel have been killed and many more injured in attacks blamed on the rebels. One soldier and five rebels died in a battle Saturday on the Jaffna Peninsula, the military said. The day before, 13 members of Sri Lanka’s navy were killed in an ambush.
In response to the violence, envoys from Japan, Britain, Norway and the European Union met with the Tamil leader S. P. Thamilselvan on Saturday in the northern guerrilla stronghold of Kilinochchi.
Thamilselvan assured the envoys of the rebels’ “commitment to the peace process and the cease-fire,” the rebels said in a statement on their Web site.
Hagrup Haukland, a Norwegian who heads the 60-member European team monitoring the Sri Lankan truce, said the latest violence has endangered the 2002 peace deal that eased the country’s nearly two-decade civil war.
“The cease-fire agreement is in jeopardy, absolutely,” he told reporters.
The rebels started their separatist campaign in 1983, saying the Tamils can only prosper away from the domination of the 14 million majority Sinhalese. The conflict has killed about 65,000 people.