B. Muralidhar Reddy

He had garlanded Rajapaksa during his Vaharai visit

COLOMBO: A Hindu priest, who garlanded and welcomed Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa during his February 3 visit to the Vaharai area that was captured from the Tamil Tigers, was shot dead in Batticaloa on Wednesday night.

A statement by the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) said the priest, Selliah Parameshwaram Kurukkal (61), who "blessed" Mr. Rajapaksa, was shot dead by the LTTE in Sandiweli in Batticaloa.

It said LTTE cadres visited his house and forced him out of his home before shooting him dead. The slain priest was the father of three children.

In a report, TamilNet, however, claimed that the priest had been forcefully taken to Vaharai from Santhiveli by the army to garland Mr. Rajapakse during his visit. It alleged that he was killed by armed men who are attached to the army intelligence.

Tigers blame army

It said the priest was taken to Vaharai by the military under the pretext of performing a pooja and was made to garland the visiting President, according to his relatives.

"Priests of all faiths have been forced to be present at the opening ceremonies of various paramilitary offices in Batticaloa and Amparai during the recent months," TamilNet said. In a message of condolence, Mr. Rajapaksa said that all men are equal for members of the clergy who are held in high esteem by all religions and they extend kindness to all persons who come to them.

"Parameshwara Kurukkal also acted accordingly, irrespective of status. When I went to him as the head of state, he invoked divine blessings on me, as he did to all others who came to him, as a clergyman of the Tamil Hindu people. As a nation and a Government, we unequivocally condemn the assassination of this clergyman carried out by the savage and cruel LTTE terrorists," he said.