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Sri Lanka exhumes body of former army spy over murder

October 19, 2016

Sri Lankan police Wednesday exhumed the body of a retired army spy whose supposed suicide note claimed responsibility for the 2009 murder of a prominent anti-establishment newspaper editor, a police officer said.

The 52-year-old former military intelligence officer was found hanging at his home in central Sri Lanka five days ago and was buried shortly afterwards, the senior police source said.

But police now suspect the suicide note found in his pocket at the time of his death may not be genuine and want to determine his link to any criminal activity that could have led to his murder.

“There had been lapses in the first autopsy and the body is exhumed to carry out fresh forensic tests,” the officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“We are looking at his fingerprints to see if he had been involved in any criminal activity.”

Investigators have begun checking his phone records and bank accounts since his retirement nine years ago.

Last month authorities reopened the investigation into the January 2009 killing of editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, a fierce critic of the then-strongman president Mahinda Rajapakse.

A serving military intelligence officer is already in custody in connection with Wickrematunga’s death, which sparked an international outcry and shone a spotlight on violence against the media.

Last month authorities also exhumed Wickrematunga’s body to conduct a fresh autopsy after fears that forensic evidence may have been tampered with or falsified to mislead the investigation.

Wickrematunga was the chief editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper which had accused Rajapakse’s then-powerful defence secretary brother Gotabhaya of kickbacks in arms purchases, including an aircraft deal.

Last year a former minister in Rajapakse’s government accused Gotabhaya of running a death squad and ordering the hit against the editor.

The newspaper was highly critical of rights abuses by troops against ethnic minority Tamils during the island’s long-running separatist conflict that ended in 2009.

Some 17 journalists and media employees were killed in Sri Lanka under Rajapakse’s regime.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.