Relatives blame SLA for aid workers’ executions

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 08 August 2006, 11:36 GMT]
Relatives of some of the aid workers shot dead execution-style in Muttur town blamed Sri Lankan security forces Tuesday whilst diplomats were skeptical of government claims the Tamil Tigers were responsible. Correspondents with Reuters news agency interviewed relatives of some of the seventeen staff of international aid group Action Contre La Faim (ACF). The father of one aid worker said another son was amongst five Tamil students shot, also execution-style in Trincomalee earlier this year.

Killed NGO workers
Relatives react after identifying the bodies of slain workers from the international aid agency Action Contre La Faim (ACF), at a hospital entrance in Trincomalee, August 8, 2006. (REUTERS)
Reuters reported 15 of the staff had been found dead on the floor of their office, while two had been gunned down while apparently trying to escape in a car.

In the office, the bodies of fourteen Tamil and one Muslim aid worker, clad in ACF T-shirts, had bullet wounds and most of them lay face down.

“We believe it was the army,” 50-year-old Richard Arulrajah, whose 24 year-old son was among those shot dead, told Reuters.

“On Friday he phoned and said he would be back by Saturday. After that, we heard the military personnel came and shot them.”

Some Sri Lankan hardliners have in the past accused aid agencies of being pro-Tamil, ignoring the majority Sinhalese and backing the Tigers.

Other aid workers have been attacked by Sinhalese mobs in recent days, and troops had been under strain in heavy fighting.

The Sri Lanka Army accused the LTTE, but diplomats are sceptical, Reuters reported Tuesday.

“All of our initial information suggests the government was involved,” the news agency quoted one western diplomat as saying. “The government's only option is to have a full independent investigation with international support.”

It was all too much for Ponuthurai Yogarajah, 62, who lost one son in the killing and another in January when five Tamil students were shot dead, also execution style, on Trincomalee beach by Sri Lankan special forces.

“There is no use in living,” he told Reuters as coffins were prepared for the bloated corpses. “Better to have died before them.”

Aid workers and diplomats say the reason for the murders of the 17 aid workers was unclear, but troops had been under days of strain in heavy fighting.

The staff had travelled to the eastern town of Muttur last Tuesday by ferry from Trincomalee, aiming to return the same day. That afternoon, a Tiger attack on a troop convoy in the harbour trapped them there. The next day the LTTE launched an offensive government troops in Muttur town and district.

“They called on the phone and you could hear shelling,” Sinathambi Navaratnarajah, 52, who lost his son-in-law told Reuters. “They called ACF and were told to stay in the office.”

After three days of heavy fighting, the LTTE pulled out Friday.

“They said the LTTE came and told them to leave,” said Arulrajah, who believed the Tigers would not have killed the ethnic Tamil workers. “They said: We are leaving this place so you must also leave or we can do nothing to protect you.”

By this time, Action Contre La Faim vehicles were trying to break through from the south, but could not get past columns of displaced Muslims and frequent mortar fire. The last radio transmission was recorded early on Friday morning, ACF says.

Most of the aid workers’ bodies had several bullet wounds, mainly to the head. The pathologist said they likely died later on Friday.

Outside the hospital in the Trincomalee, where the bodies of the aid workers arrived late on Monday night, relatives wailed while policemen covered their noses and mouths with scarves against the stench of death.

Tamil correspondents were not allowed to approach the site. Some said they were photographed by security forces who threatened to find and kill them if they reported on the massacre.

There has been strong international condemnation of the massacre. It was the highest toll of aid workers in a single incident since the 2003 bombing of the UN's Baghdad headquarters which killed at least 24.

“We are deeply shocked by the spate of violent attacks on civilians and humanitarian aid personnel in Sri Lanka,” European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner said in a statement, demanding an immediate investigation.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy condemned what he called “the appalling and cowardly murders.”

The French charity Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger) said Monday it was suspending its mission to Sri Lanka after the killings.

“These humanitarian workers were clearly identified by their T-shirts as members of a non-governmental organization,” the group's director, Benoît Miribel told AFP.

“We are appalled at what happened to the ACF staff,” said Yvonne Dunton, head of the ICRC's sub-delegation in Trincomalee.

“This was a deliberate attack on a humanitarian organization that was doing valuable work for the people of Muttur.”



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