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Sri Lanka group threatens to kill newspaper staff

Sri Lanka group threatens to kill newspaper staff

An ethnic Tamil group has threatened to kill anyone working for or distributing a Tamil nationalist newspaper in northern Sri Lanka, accusing the paper of supporting the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels.
The group calling itself the Tamil Front Protecting the Country said in a note sent to newspaper dealers and obtained by The Associated Press that reporters and other staff, including the security guards, must quit the Uthayan newspaper by Tuesday.
The note, which the group called a "final warning," also warns traders against selling the paper. The newspaper is published on the northern Jaffna peninsula _ the cultural capital of the island's ethnic minority Tamils _ and supports self-rule for Tamils.
The Tamil Tiger rebel group fought in a decades-long civil war that ended last month when the military finally crushed the insurgents' quest for an independent state.
"Uthayan has been a propaganda organ for terror activities. Since you have ignored our previous warnings, we are forced not to allow newspapers that mislead the people," the group said in the note, which was written in the Tamil language. "Those who ignore this will be subjected to the death penalty."
The Tamil Front Protecting the Country was unknown until last week, when it delivered a statement condemning the rebels to the offices of newspapers in Jaffna and gave strict orders for it to be published. Days later armed attackers ambushed newspaper delivery men and torched thousands of copies of three papers whose editors had refused to print the statement.
It is not known who the leaders of the group are or what its goals are. No one had signed the statements.
Uthayan newspaper's publisher E. Saravanapavan said he did not know who was behind the threat. He said a lot of workers have been absent since the threat and he has asked police for security assurances.
Uthayan's staff has repeatedly faced threats and violence, the most serious in 2006 when gunmen stormed its offices and killed two staffers.
Its editor was arrested earlier this year on alleged rebel links but released in two months by a court that said there was no evidence to charge him.
According to Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists and staff at news outlets have been killed by suspected government paramilitaries and rebels since the beginning of 2006. Others have been detained, tortured or have disappeared and 20 more have fled the country because of death threats, it said.