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Sunday, 17 September, 2000, 14:37 GMT 15:37 UK
Helicopter crash probe launched
The mountain top helicopter crash site
The mountain top helicopter crash site
Sri Lankan officials have launched an investigation into a helicopter crash which killed the prominent Muslim leader, MHM Ashraff, and 14 others on Saturday.

The investigators say they have asked for foreign help to establish the cause of the accident.

Defence officials are quoted as saying they have not ruled out possible Tamil Tiger involvement in the crash, though they originally blamed the accident on engine failure.

Mr Ashraff's funeral
The funeral was marred by the heckling and abuse of political rivals of Mr Ashraff
Thousands of people attended Mr Ashraff's funeral in the capital Colombo in the early hours of Sunday morning. The burial was marred by heckling and abuse of rival politicians.

Mr Ashraff, the Minister of Ports and leader of the Sri Lankan Muslim Congress, a party in Sri Lanka's governing coalition, was travelling to his constituency when the helicopter crashed, east of Colombo.

Sever ties

Mr Ashraff was a key political ally of President Chandrika Kumaratunga. However the relationship of his Sri Lankan Muslim Congress Party with other members of the president's People's Alliance coalition government has been turbulent recently.

Last month Mr Ashraff resigned following a clash with another Muslim minister, AHM Fowzie, who is a member of President Kumaratunga's Sri Lanka Freedom Party.

The remains of the dead are retrieved for investigation
The remains of the dead are retrieved from the mountain crash site
Mr Ashraff's resignation was not accepted by the president but it appears that political differences between him and other ministers remained.

He is reported to have issued a statement shortly before the fateful helicopter journey saying that he had decided to sever all ties with the People's Alliance on a permanent basis.

Efficient operator and poet

Mr Ashraff had a reputation of getting legislation quickly through parliament.

He also held the rehabilitation and reconstruction portfolios and is credited with making the port of Colombo operate more efficiently and with attracting Western investment into Sri Lanka.

Mr Ashraff was also renowned for his poetry, written in Tamil, which upset some in the Buddhist community because of what they said were its derogatory references to the Buddha.

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See also:

11 Sep 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka vote fears voiced
18 Aug 00 | South Asia
Sri Lanka sets election date
23 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pre-poll violence in Sri Lanka
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