Sri Lanka newspaper office attacked by gunmen

A gang armed with swords and guns attacked the office of a newspaper known for its critical stance against the government, police and employees said Monday.

The gang broke into the offices of The Sunday Leader in Ratmalana, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the capital Colombo, late Sunday and set bundles of newspapers on fire, said Lasantha Wickremetunga, the paper's chief editor.

Gang members hit the publication's manager S.A. Dias on the neck and demanded that printing of the newspaper be stopped, Wickremetunga said.

The armed men made off with Dias' mobile phone and some cash after setting about 40 bundles of newspaper ablaze, he said.

Wickremetunga vowed that the newspaper would not be "intimidated into silence."

In May, the editor wrote to the country's police chief claiming his life was under threat after a pro-government lawmaker accused him publicly of supporting Tamil Tiger rebels. The complaint came a week after another journalist facing a similar accusation was abducted and shot dead.

Wickremetunga, a critic of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, was attacked once and his house shot at in 1998.

"This is yet another attempt to stop our publications," Wickremetunga said. "It's a step toward media suppression for those who don't toe the line."

A senior police officer, R. Asaratnam, visited the printing plant. "We have already launched an investigation into the attack," he said. No arrests have been made so far but police were questioning several people, he said.

Several Sri Lankan journalists have been killed in recent years, but no one has been charged in connection with the attacks, reports the AP.


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