Senior Sri Lankan Minister killed in helicopter crash
[TamilNet, Saturday, 16 September 2000, 07:12 GMT]
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress leader (SLMC) and Sri Lanka's Ports minister M.H.M.Ashraff and at least 10 others were killed in a helicopter crash at Aranayake in the Kegalle district, about 60 km. east of Colombo, Saturday morning, police said.
The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) helicopter was carrying the Minister and his colleges to Kalmunai, in Ampara where the Ashraff was scheduled to address an election rally this evening. Minister's body guards and Air Force crew were among the killed.
SLAF sources said that the Mi-17 helicopter left Colombo at 9 a.m. and had lost contacts with the control tower in the capital around 9.50 a.m. while it was flying over Aranayake region in the Sabragamuwa Province.
They said helicopter might have crashed due to bad weather.
Police sources in Kegalle said rescue operations were hampered because the helicopter crashed in a mountainous region. They said 9 bodies have been recovered at the site.
Senior SLMC members including its General Secretary Mr.Rauf Hakeem have rushed to Aranayake.
Mohammed Hussain Moahammed Ashraff was the most powerful Muslim political leader in Sri Lanka in recent times. Born in Sammanthurai in the Ampara district on 23 October 1948, Ashraff was the coalition partner of the Sri Lankan government with the greatest political clout from 1994 to 2000.
He was educated at the Wesleyan Mission School in Kalmunai. While he was a law student in Colombo, Ashraff worked as part time journalist with the Tamil daily Thinapathy. He was a short story writer and poet during this period and published a Tamil magazine called 'Samathuvam' (Equality, a monthly journal with a Marxist leaning).
Ashraff entered politics as an active member of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) in 1976 and campaigned for mandate from the Tamils and Muslims of the northern and eastern provinces of the island for a separate Tamil state at the general elections in 1977.
He formed the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) as a social and literary organisation on 21 September 1981. The Muslim Congress strived to draw attention to specific problems faced by the Muslims farmers in the Ampara district whose lands had been taken over by state for irrigation schemes and by state backed Sinhala colonists.
The SLMC grew in popularity among the Muslim middle classes in the east that arose in the early seventies following the decline of absentee Tamil landlordism in the Batticaloa and Ampara districts. It shot into national prominence when Muslims in the east widely rioted against the establishment of the Israeli interests section in the US embassy in Colombo in 1984.
The SLMC was registered as a political party on 29 November 1986.
In 1987, the Muslim Congress was one of the few parties in Sri Lanka to accept the provincial council system established under the provisions of the Indo-Lanka treaty in July that year. The party contested the elections to the provincial councils in 1988 and took part in the program by the Indian army to raise a militia under its (the Indian army's) wings called the Tamil National Army.
Ashraff became a close ally of President Premadasa after his election to Parliament on 22 August 1989.
His main demand since the early nineties was a separate Muslim majority autonomous region in the southeastern part of the island.
In 1994, he won seven seats and became the most powerful coalition partner of the People's Alliance government and was made the Minister for Ports, shipping, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction.