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Sri Lankan court acquits ex-rebel lawmaker of murder charges

January 13, 2021
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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — A Sri Lankan court on Wednesday acquitted a rebel-turned-lawmaker of charges that he was involved in the killing of an ethnic Tamil legislator at the height of the island’s long civil war.

The court in the eastern town of Batticaloa released Sivanesathurai Chandarakanthan, who won a seat while in detention in last August’s parliamentary election, representing a party that backs President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

Four others were also released.

The Attorney General’s Department told the court earlier this week that it does not intend to continue the case against Chandrakanthan.

Chandrakanthan was a former child soldier in the Tamil Tiger rebel group that fought a quarter-century civil war to create an independent state for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority in the island’s north and east. He later joined a renegade faction that emerged from the biggest split in the rebel group in 2004 and functioned as a paramilitary group supporting government forces.

His faction played a key role in the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in the eastern province, a precursor to their total rout in 2009. Allegations of abductions, torture and killings against his faction have never been properly investigated.

He then entered electoral politics and became the government-backed chief minister of Eastern Province.

With the election defeat of then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the elder brother of the current president, Chandrakanthan was arrested and charged with involvement in the shooting death of rebel-backed Tamil lawmaker Joseph Pararajasingham during the midnight Christmas service at a church in Batticaloa in 2005.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his campaign in 2019 promised to release members of the armed forces accused of wartime abuses. Last March, he pardoned a soldier on death row for killing eight civilians including a 5-year-old.

Rajapaksa was a top defense official and played a decisive role in the military campaign against the rebels led by his older brother president, who is now the prime minister.

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