British official, journalist attacked in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A British High Commission employee and a journalist were assaulted in Sri Lanka on Monday, prompting media groups to say they feared it was the latest in a series of attacks against journalists.

A Sri Lankan attached to the commission and a defence journalist at the Sri Lanka Press Institute were attacked by a group in their car in the capital Colombo, witnesses said. Both were wounded but hospital workers said they were not in danger.

Britain’s High Commissioner condemned the “despicable act” and urged the government to bring those responsible to justice.

“We will be working with the authorities to do everything that we can, to make sure that happens,” Peter Hayes said at the private hospital where they were being treated.

Media Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa, who also visited the hospital, promised an impartial investigation.

Police sources said they were investigating the attack.

Journalist and media rights groups say the government has done little to stop the violation of media freedom and attacks against journalists in Sri Lanka.

“This is related to the suppression of media,” said Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement. “We hope the government will do something to stop this. If government can’t do that, we should hold government responsible for the attack.”

The Free Media Movement said seven journalists, including a defence columnist, had been assaulted since May 1. One journalist was hacked to death in May in the island nation’s northern district of Jaffna.

President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government has been accused of taking an increasingly heavy-handed approach towards critics of its military policy, both at home and abroad, after Sri Lanka’s 25-year-old civil war reignited two years ago.

Fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) has intensified since the government formally pulled out of a six-year-old ceasefire pact in January.

Sri Lanka has intermittently censored media reports of the civil war since it began in 1983, and it has restricted access to Tamil Tiger-held areas.