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Sri Lankan Security Chief Arrested

April 2, 2002

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) _ A top security officer for Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was arrested Tuesday and charged with conspiring to kill one of Kumaratunga’s political rivals, police said.

Nihal Karunaratne, head of the presidential security division, is accused in a plot to kill Agriculture and Social Welfare Minister S.B. Dissanayake just days before parliamentary elections in December.

Prosecutors have not released details of the plot but it did not lead to an attempt on his life.

Dissanayake was minister of welfare and parliamentary affairs in the previous government, led by Kumaratunga’s Peoples’ Alliance. But he resigned in a dispute over her allies, setting off events that culminated in the party’s defeat in the elections.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe of the United National Front took over with a promise to end the 18-year civil war with ethnic Tamil rebels. However Kumaratunga, elected separately to a presidential term that ends in 2005, retains wide-ranging executive powers.

Karunaratne was already on trial in Kandy, about 55 miles east of Colombo, on a charge of threatening to kill a police officer who was investigating the alleged assassination plot. Karunaratne was free on bail when arrested Tuesday in Colombo, police spokesman Rienzie Perera said.

Security was strengthened around the president after she was blinded in the right eye by a separatist Tamil suicide bomber in 1999. She now has some 1,000 officers assigned to protect her.

Opposition parties and human rights groups accuse the security force of indulging in political violence, an allegation the force denies.

Tamil rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate Tamil state, but in February signed cease-fire agreement ahead of peace talks planned for May.

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