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Kumar Ponnambalam

Kumar Ponnambalam (August 12, 1940 – January 5, 2000) was a prominent defence lawyer and a controversial minority Tamil nationalist politician from Sri Lanka. He was shot dead by unknown gunmen immediately after a suspected LTTE suicide bomb attack against the then president Chandrika Kumaratunga.[n 1]


Kumar Ponnambalam was born in the capital city of Colombo to an affluent and politically influential minority Sri Lankan Tamil family. His father G. G. Ponnambalam was a prominent defense attorney and the leader of the All Ceylon Tamil Congress, a party that was at times an ally of the ruling majority Sinhalese dominated United National Party in clear opposition to the Tamil Nationalistic tone of other Tamil political parties.[n 2]

Kumar Ponnambalam joined his father's Tamil Congress Party as a young politician, and eventually rose to its senior leadership. After the demise of founder G. G. Ponnambalam however, the party became moribund and had little or no electoral support.[n 1]

Kumar was noted for his appearances on behalf of youths apprehended by the state under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. He would work pro bono for both Tamil and Sinhalese clients. He was a Tamil Christian.[1]

Later on, Kumar came to be known for his ardent press statements in support of the separatist militant group LTTE during the civil war, in contrast to the moderate Tamil United Liberation Front party line of supporting the then ruling People's Alliance front.

His son Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam is a former parliamentarian.[n 2]


Many Tamils regard the open letter that he wrote to Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga a few days before he was murdered as an enduring epitaph to his steadfast commitment to the struggle of his people for equality and freedom. The letter addressed to the Sri Lankan President was titled "Your Speech Reflects Your Hatred" and read:

"I write as a Tamil Eelavan. But more importantly, I write as an unalloyed, unrepentant supporter of the political philosophy of the LTTE and as one who, with that conviction, lives in the South. I write as one who has publicly stated this position of mine not only within this island but also without, and both verbally and in writing. I write as one whom you have recognized in your speech. And, I write as one who refuses to be deterred by the naked threats that dot your speech."


On the day of his assassination, Mr Ponnambalam had been accompanied in his car from home by a Sinhalese man, known only as Shantha, who had become acquainted with him recently. He was shot twice in his car. His body was later found in the car on Ramakrishna Lane in the suburb of Wellawatte. Shantha was never apprehended. A previously unknown group, the National Front Against Terrorism, has claimed responsibility.[n 3]

His wife and the rebel group LTTE accused the government of ordering the murder.[n 3][n 4] International groups such as the International Commission of Jurists demanded an immediate impartial investigation.[n 5]

Subsequent to the assassination, Tamil prisoners in the Kalutara prison rioted as a protest and two were killed in the process of quelling it.[n 6]


After his shooting in January 2000, a former reserve police constable named Sugath Ranasinghe had telephoned the Crimes Detection Bureau(CDB) headquarters and informed them that he was responsible for contracting two underworld gunmen, Moratuwa Saman and Sujeewa, to kill Mr. Ponnambalam. Reserve police constable Ranasinghe had had his enlistment in the police cancelled, as he had not reported for work for several months.[2]

Mahen Ratwatte, the controversial son of the then deputy defence minister[3] and maternal uncle of the then serving president, General Anuruddha Ratwatte, was alleged to have ordered the killing. Moratu Saman was subsequently murdered.[4] It was alleged by the Sunday Leader[5] that he was shot in an attempt to prevent him from testifying against Mahen Ratwatte.

The Attorney General ruled that there was insufficient evidence to bring charges for the murder against Mahen Ratwatte, as the sole evidence that was available was Sugath Ranasinghe's taped telephone conversation, which could not be used for prosecution since he remained an accused.

Subsequent to allegations made by SSP Bandula Wickremasinghe in an article captioned "Startling Revelations of President Chandrika Kumaratunga's Efforts to Shield Murderers of Kumar Ponnambalam and 'Satana' Editor Rohana Kumara Have Been Bared" in the prominent weekly magazine Sunday Leader,[6] the Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga denied any involvement and directed the inspector general of police to hold an impartial investigation into the matter. There are no further developments regarding this murder investigation.

See also


  1. ^ a b BBC report on Kumar Ponnamabalam
  2. ^ a b Peaceful protest by members of parliament
  3. ^ a b Sri Lanka monitor report
  4. ^ LTTE press release
  5. ^ International Jurists report
  6. ^ Prison uprising after his death


  1. ^ James W. Gair, Studies in South Asian Linguistics: Sinhala and other South Asian languages, 1998, Chapter 14: How Dravidanized was Sinhala phonology? Pages 185-199)
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^

External links

  • Tamilnation's 100 Tamils list
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