07 July, 2008 - Published 14:03 GMT

Ellawala murder case transfered

Three ministers in Sri Lankan government appeared before Ratnapura high court as accused and witnesses of a murder case.

Nation Building Minister, Susantha Punchinilame, and Textiles Minister, Mahinda Rathnathilake, are charged as the first and second accused for killing a ruling party MP in 1997.

Justice Minister, Dilan Perera, appeared as an eye witness of the murder.

The two ministers and four others are charged with murdering the United Peoples Alliance (UPA) parliamentarian, Nalanda Sampath Ellawala, on 11 February 1997 or on a nearer date.

MP shot dead

The four other suspects are security guards of the two ministers, who were opposition MPs at the time of the incident.

Police constable TM Jayasena was also shot dead on the incident and Inspector of Police (IP), Upali Sirisoma, was fatally wounded.

Ruling party parliamentarian Wijedasa Rajapaksa, PC, appeared for the interests of the witnesses as the case was taken for hearing for the first time after handing over charge sheets.

The security was tightened around the court as accused ministers entered the court room with ministerial security guards, journalist Ajith Lal Shantha Udaya reported.

Counsel for the accused requested Ratnapura High court Judge, Anoma Wijewardene, to transfer the case to Colombo High Court for the safety of witnesses.

Victim's close friends

Allowing the request as no objections was made by the plaintiffs, the judiciary also ordered the witnesses to appear before the court only if notice is issued.

The hearing was postponed until 08 September.

Mr. Ellawala, Minister Perera and President Rajapaksa’s close ally, Minister Dullas Alahapperuma, were the leaders of a ruling party back-bench parliamentary group at the time of the shooting.

Both Mr. Punchinilame and Rathnathilake were members of the main opposition, United National Party (UNP) in 1997.

While Punchinilame joined the Rajapaksa administration earlier last year, Rathnathilake joined the government just before the vote for the budget proposals.