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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Dead dove prompts Sri Lanka probe
Doves on parade in Sri Lanka
The doves were handed over by soldiers to dignitaries and politicians
The Sri Lankan authorities have ordered an inquiry after a dove freeing ceremony intended to symbolise peace went disastrously wrong.

One bird was dead before take-off and "dropped like a brick" soon after it left the hands of the public security minister at a ceremony last weekend.

A BBC cameraman who witnessed the incident said that the dove may have died due to excessive humidity.

At this time of the year temperatures can reach 33C.

Heat exhaustion

"The dove was one of seven due to be released by dignitaries and politicians at a United Nations ceremony last weekend," said BBC cameraman Sriyantha Walpola.

Most of the doves soared majestically into the air

"But because the birds had to wait at least 30 minutes in the excessive humidity before they were released, many of them appeared to be weak.

"Unfortunately the bird that was due to be freed by the Public Security Minister, Ratnasiri Wickremanayake, was dead almost as soon as it was handed to him by a white gloved soldier," he said.

Instead of soaring majestically into the air to symbolise the government's commitment to peace and goodwill, the dove "dropped like a brick" on to the ground.

The incident happened in front of other government ministers and prominent dignitaries including the visiting Commander of US Forces in the Pacific, General James Campbell.

All the doves had successful take-offs apart form the one belonging to Mr Wickremanayake, who is also Sri Lanka's deputy defence minister.

The military police will look into the circumstances and try to see if there was any sabotage
Sri Lankan defence ministry spokesman

A three member delegation of the military police led by an army major have now been called in to investigate the mystery of the dead dove.

Such an incident is seen as inauspicious by many Sri Lankans, who since the weekend have written to newspapers expressing fears that the death of the dove could symbolise the demise of the country's peace process.

It has assumed added significance because Tamil Tiger rebels have warned that the country risks sliding back into a state of war unless the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga revives peace negotiations.

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