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Last Updated: Friday, 19 November, 2004, 12:34 GMT
Gunman kills top Sri Lankan judge
Judge's wife at scene of the shooting in Colombo
The judge's wife mourns at the scene of the shooting in Colombo
A Sri Lankan high court judge and his bodyguard have been shot dead in the capital, Colombo, police said.

Sarath Ambepitiya and the guard were killed as the judge returned to his residence. The gunman, who escaped in a van, has not been identified.

Judge Ambepitiya sentenced the leader of the Tamil Tiger rebels, Velupillai Prabhakaran, to 200 years in jail in absentia over a 1996 bomb attack.

The judge had also just given a life sentence to a woman drug trafficker.

Cordoned off

The BBC's Dumeetha Luthra in Colombo says this is the first time the judiciary has been targeted in a country where political figures have constantly come under attack.

Velupillai Prabhakaran
Tamil Tiger leader Prabhakaran - one of many tried by the judge

Sri Lanka's Chief Justice Sarath N Silva said: "He was a very brave judge. I have often inquired about his security. He took on several tough cases and his death was maybe connected to his judgments. This is a challenge to all of us."

Police cordoned off the Cinnamon Gardens area in the capital's diplomatic quarter to search for the gunman.

Our correspondent says there is as yet no apparent motive for the killing, but Judge Ambepitiya, 58, was unafraid of passing long sentences.

His killing came hours after he gave a life sentence to a woman heroin trafficker.

He is also known to have given record jail terms to child molesters.

He handed down the 200-year jail term to Prabhakaran in 2002 for his involvement in the truck bombing of the Central Bank in Colombo that killed 91.

News of the judge's killing came on the same day that the government accused the Tamil Tigers of breaking a ceasefire by killing an intelligence officer and an informant in the east of the country.

It said the killings cast doubt on the rebels' commitment to peace.


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