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Gunmen torch Sri Lankan newspaper equipment

Attack on media outlet critical of government in country's north follows UN resolution to improve human rights.

Last Modified: 13 Apr 2013 08:36
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There have been at least nine journalist murders under current President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government [AFP]

Three armed men have set fire to the printing machine of a Tamil-language newspaper that is critical of the Sri Lankan government, forcing the paper to halt printing, the editor said.

The attack on Saturday at the Uthayan newspaper office is the fifth strike on the media since January in Sri Lanka's former war zone in the north, and the second after the UN passed a resolution on March 21 calling on the government to address human rights violations.

Editor E Saravanapavan said the men threatened and chased away the workers and delivery men. Later they shot at the control board and set fire to the machines, newspapers and the newsprint.

Saravanapavan says the military or a paramilitary supporting the government could be behind the attack. Military spokesman Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya said the allegation is baseless, adding the army will cooperate with a police investigation.

"Three men wearing helmets threatened my staff at the printing section and set fire to the main printing machine," Thevanayagam Premananth, the editor of the Uthayan told Reuters.

Uthayan, the leading newspaper in the island nation's northern peninsula of Jaffna, has been critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government and the military.

Last week, an unidentified group of people attacked another Uthayan office, leaving five workers injured.

E Saravanapavan, a lawmaker with the Tamil National Alliance party, which was linked to the former ethnic Tamil separatist rebels, said the government's failure to take action after previous attacks has encouraged violence against newspapers in the north. Provincial council polls are due in that region later this year.

Police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said an investigation is underway.

Lakshman Hulugalla, director general at the Media Centre for National Security, part of the defence ministry, said initial
investigations indicated the attack was an "inside job to tarnish the image of the government."

No arrests have been made in connection with the previous four attacks.

Political violence has eased since Sri Lanka's army crushed the Tamil rebellion in 2009, but international human rights
groups say attacks on those critical of the government persist.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 19 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1992, and many of those during Rajapaksa's leadership.

"Mahinda Rajapaksa's government has failed to prosecute any perpetrators in the nine [journalist] murders that have taken place during his time in power, first as prime minister and then president," the CPJ says on its website.

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