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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sri Lankan Rebel Group Denies Killing Minister

COLOMBO. Sri Lanka -- More than 1,000 police and troops scoured Colombo on Sunday for one or more snipers, suspected to be Tamil Tiger rebels, who gunned down Sri Lanka's foreign minister and rekindled fears of a return to civil war.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or LTTE, which usually denied responsibility for attacks in Colombo before a cease-fire in the two decade-old civil war was reached in 2002, said it was not involved in the assassination.

Few in Colombo appeared to believe the Tigers, who have said repeatedly the cease-fire could collapse because of a rash of killings in the restive east that the government and rebels blame on each other. President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government, which declared the cease-fire still intact, said the denial was hard to swallow.

On Sunday, soldiers checked cars entering or leaving Colombo after the government declared a state of emergency as a precautionary measure to allow mass troop movements.

But newspapers in Colombo, critical of the reaction by Lakshman Kadirgamar's security detail in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, said the gunmen could be anywhere. The area around Kadirgamar's home was not sealed off quickly after he was shot several times from a house across the street as he emerged from his swimming pool on Friday night, giving the gunmen time to escape, newspapers said.

"Twelve people have been arrested during yesterday's cordon and search operation, and it is not specifically connected to this murder," military spokesman Brigaduer Daya Ratnayake said. "They were taken on suspicion."

Investigators say the gunmen hid upstairs in the house and shot Kadirgamar four times. A Tamil couple who own the property are under house arrest for questioning, but have not been charged.

The government is preparing a state funeral on Monday for the slain 73-year-old Oxford-educated minister. Shops and cinemas will close out of respect.

Kadirgamar had long been at the top of the Tigers' hit list for campaigning to have them labeled as a terrorist group by the United States and Britain. Because he was a Tamil, many hard-liners called him a traitor.

The Tigers have fought for a homeland for ethnic Tamils since 1983, accusing the government dominated by the majority Sinhalese of discrimination.

n Attackers hurled more than five hand grenades into a Tamil Tiger office in eastern Sri Lanka on Sunday, a pro-rebel web site reported. Five political officials "who were inside the building narrowly escaped from the attack," TamilNet said. The Defense Ministry confirmed that there was an attack.