MONTREAL – The Sri Lankan military is thought to be involved in the murder of a Canadian citizen of Tamil origin, according to journalists in Sri Lanka. The founding editor of a nationalist Tamil news organization told QMI Agency Sunday that his journalists on the ground in northern Sri Lanka reported that the Montreal man was murdered after trying to reclaim property seized by the military.
Andrew Mahendrarajah Antonipillai, 53, was found dead in northern Sri Lanka in early May, his family told QMI Agency on Saturday.
Jeya Kopinath, 42, founding editor of TamilNet, a Tamil nationalist news site, said his journalists reported that Antonipillai’s throat was slit and his penis cut off, just outside the northern Sri Lankan town of Kilinochchi.
Kopinath said that Antonipillai owned eight stores in Kilinochchi, which is the former headquarters of the separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and an area that Kopinath said is heavily militarized. The government declared victory over the LTTE – also known as the Tamil Tigers – in 2009 after 26 years of war.
Kopinath spoke to QMI from Norway, where he edits his news site that is read internationally. TamilNet focuses on stories pertaining to Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and has been criticized for being too pro-Tamil Tiger and highly critical of the government and military.
At least two of Antonipillai’s shops were seized by the military, which were leasing them out to a local food company, Kopinath said. The TamilNet editor told QMI Agency that the military offered Antonipillai money in return for the stores, but they were rebuked.
Antonipillai was also arguing with local military officials over electricity for a house that he was building in a town outside Kilinochchi, Kopinath said.
In early May, Kopinath said that Antonipillai was attacked by a group of men at the site of the home he was building. Antonipillai was able to fend them off and a chase ensued, but he was eventually killed. Kopinath said that Antonipillai’s penis was cut off so that the murder would appear as a local dispute over a woman.
However, Kopinath said that in a region with such a strong military presence, a brazen killing through the streets could not have occurred without the military’s consent.
QMI Agency reached the military headquarters in Kilinochchi but was re-directed to the centralized media centre in the country’s capital, Colombo.
QMI was told that no one was available to speak on Sunday about the slaying.
Human rights organizations have widely reported that both sides in the 26-year conflict were responsible for systematic human rights abuses.
A March 2012 report on Sri Lanka by Amnesty International cited that “arbitrary and illegal detention and enforced disappearances remain routine in Sri Lanka, where human rights abuses of all types go uninvestigated and unpunished.”
The report also cited that the army “continues to have a large presence in the north and is deployed for civil policing… The Special Task Force (STF), an elite police commando unit with a history of human rights violations, remains active across the country.”
Benjo Pooniah, the brother-in-law of Antonipillai, told QMI Agency on Saturday that he could not confirm TamilNet’s reports that Antonipillai’s body was mutilated or the claim that the military was involved.
He said his brother-in-law’s body was expected to be returned to Canada Sunday and funeral services were scheduled to begin in Montreal on Friday.
Antonipillai worked as a furniture designer in Montreal and was “very well-known” in the city’s Tamil community, Pooniah said.
Jean-Bruno Villeneuve, spokesperson for the department of Foreign Affairs, told QMI Agency on Saturday that a Canadian citizen “is believed to have been murdered in Sri Lanka.” However, he was not able to give details.
By Giuseppe Valiante ,QMI Agency