Tamil National Alliance candidate Rajan Sathyamoorthy was gunned down at his house in the town of Batticaloa together with a relative on Tuesday, military officials said.

  

He had been a supporter of breakaway Tamil Tiger leader V Muralitharan, better known as Karuna, who led an unprecedented split from the main Tiger guerrilla organisation recently.

  

The armed men entered Sathyamoorthy's house in the heart of the Batticaloa town, 300km east of the capital Colombo by road, and escaped after spraying him and his brother-in-law with bullets, officials said.

  

Protests

 

LTTE's Prabhakaran is a much-
feared figure

Sathyamoorthy had organised several protests in the region in support of Karuna after the main rebel organisation expelled him and labelled him a traitor, a euphemism for condemning him to death.

 

The latest killings came amid a series of shootings that have targeted the top electoral official in the coastal region of Batticaloa, Ratnam Manoguruswamy, and two Tamil candidates in the capital Columbo.

 

Tamil heartlands

  

Meanwhile, the mainly Tamil people of Jaffna are now banking on ballots to deliver what bullets have failed to do for decades. Troops and Tamil Tigers fought some of their bloodiest battles in the northern Sri Lankan town.

 

Jaffna was the epicentre of the separatist struggle led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that has claimed more than 60,000 lives in the past three decades.

  

Despite a two-year ceasefire, Tamil-majority Jaffna is subdued and tense as Friday's election looms.

  

The reason is, "we fear the LTTE," said Douglas Devananda, secretary-general of the moderate Eelam People's Democratic party (EPDP), one of the groups contesting the polls in an anti-LTTE alliance.

  

The Tigers had "in the past killed all those Tamil leaders seen as potential threats or challenges to LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran," said Devananda in his dimly lit but heavily guarded office in Jaffna town.

 

"We (TNA and the LTTE) stand for one cause which is freedom and self-rule for the Tamils"

Senathirajah,
editor, Eelanaadu

He accused the LTTE, which is not standing in the election but backs the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), of intimidating voters and his party activists.

  

TNA leader Mavai Senathirajah rejected Devanda's charges. "The LTTE is not intimidating anyone. They are going door-to-door meeting people. If there is intimidation, where is it?"

  

T Sritharan of the moderate Eelam People's Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF), standing on an anti-LTTE platform, believed the people of the war-weary city would not side with the TNA and its Tamil Tigers backers.

 

Senathirajah - like the editor of the Tamil-language Eelanaadu newspaper, S Ratheyan - believed most of Jaffna's 275,000 voters will go with the TNA - an amalgam of Tamil parties, a labour union and a students' group.

  

"We (TNA and the LTTE) stand for one cause which is freedom and self-rule for the Tamils," he says.