US 'extremely concerned' on Sri Lanka press freedom

The United States said Monday it was "extremely concerned" about media freedom in Sri Lanka after gunmen attacked and torched the office of an opposition newspaper of the Tamil minority.

State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell, pointing out that the attack was the latest against the island's media, said: "We remain extremely concerned about threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka."

"We urge the Sri Lankan authorities to protect freedom of expression, to conduct a credible investigation and to hold perpetrators accountable," Ventrell told reporters.

Three gunmen staged the pre-dawn arson assault Saturday on the office of the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka's former civil war zone in the north of the country.

The newspaper's owner is a legislator from Sri Lanka's main Tamil party, the opposition Tamil National Alliance, which accused the government of trying to silence its political rivals ahead of local elections.

Local media reports quoted the defense ministry's publicity arm claiming that the attack was an "inside job" to discredit the government.

The United States has repeatedly voiced concern about human rights in Sri Lanka and urged accountability over the bloody finale of the island's deacdes-long civil war in 2009.