BBC correspondent assaulted in Colombo

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New York, April 7, 2000 — CPJ condemns the April 6 assault on Elmo Fernando, correspondent for the BBC’s Sinhala-language service. Fernando was attacked in front of the Norwegian embassy in the capital city of Colombo by a group of demonstrators protesting Norway’s attempts to mediate a peace agreement that would end Sri Lanka’s 16-year-old civil war.

The demonstration was led by members of the Buddhist clergy and the National Movement Against Terrorism, a Sinhalese organization bitterly opposed to negotiating with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) guerrilla movement, which seeks an independent homeland for Sri Lanka’s ethnic Tamil minority.

Upon seeing Fernando, a group of demonstrators began shouting slogans accusing the BBC of being biased in favor of the LTTE. Fernando, who was covering the demonstration for the Sinhala-language program “Sandeshaya,” was then assaulted while trying to record their chants.

“They shouted against the BBC and me, and then someone hit me from behind,” Fernando told Agence France-Presse.

Fernando suffered minor injuries before he was rescued by other journalists.

Sri Lanka’s increasingly violent political climate is taking its toll on journalists. CPJ is investigating the April 3 bomb attack on the home of Nellai G. Nadesan, a columnist for Veerakesari, the country’s leading Tamil-language newspaper.

Two journalists were killed while on assignment in Sri Lanka in 1999, and three others were assassinated for reasons that remain unknown.