Reuters International

A police officer from the criminal investigations department prepares to exhumes the body of Lasantha Wickrematunge at a cemetery in Colombo, Sri Lanka September 27, 2016.REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte


COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan police on Tuesday exhumed the body of a senior journalist who had predicted just days before his murder in 2009 that he would be killed by the government, marking the latest development in a series of probes into former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's administration.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, an outspoken editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, often clashed with politicians. Rajapaksa's brother, then defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, had sued it for defamation over stories criticizing the country's civil war and alleging procurement graft.

In his last editorial just before the murder, Wickrematunga had written that he had reason to believe that attacks against the media at the time were inspired by the government.

"When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me," he wrote before three days he was killed.

Wickrematunga was killed while sitting in a car stuck in rush hour traffic in a high security zone near the capital, Colombo. Human rights groups said the Rajapaksa regime failed to probe his murder.

Wickrematunga's death was one of several high-profile killings under the Rajapaksa government and is one of the many investigations re-opened by President Maithripala Sirisena into his predecessor's administration. Sirisena ousted Rajapaksa in January 2015.

Rajapaksa and several members of his family now face probes into alleged misappropriation of state resources. Two sons of the former president and his younger brother, Basil, who was the economic development minister in his administration, have been arrested and are facing court cases. Gotabaya Rajapaksa is being probed for a private floating armoury deal.

The Rajapaksas have denied any wrongdoing.

In July, an army intelligence official was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping Wickrematunga's driver. A court ordered exhumation of Wickrematunga’s body after his family raised questions over the previous autopsy report, which said the death was due to gunshots. Family members have said the editor had been stabbed to death.

Wickrematunga's body was exhumed under tight police security in the main Colombo cemetery.

"The family is now satisfied and happy the CID is conducting the investigations properly and what they want is to find out the truth," Athula Ranagala, a lawyer who appeared on behalf of Wickrematunga’s family, told reporters.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez and Ranga Sirilal; Editing by Paritosh Bansal and Nick Macfie)


 Reuters International