Sri Lanka: ‘Holmes is a terrorist’

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 15 August 2007, 13:38 GMT]
Stung by a top UN official’s criticism that Sri Lanka has one of the worst records in the world for humanitarian aid worker safety, the Colombo government Wednesday condemned him as a “terrorist” and said he had been bribed by the Tamil Tigers to tarnish the country’s reputation. Meanwhile the head of the government's peace secretariat accused French aid group Action Contre la Faim of being responsible for the massacre of 17 of their own local staff last year through "negligence" and "irresponsibility". International monitors have blamed government troops for the killings.

John Holmes
U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said on a visit to Sri Lanka last week the island had one of the worst records in the world for humanitarian aid worker safety. He said almost 30 aid workers had been killed over the past 18 months.

The Sri Lankan government last week reacted angrily, demanding Sir Holmes retract his statement. The UN however stood by the Under-Secretary-General, saying there was no evidence to contradict his statements.

At a press conference Wednesday Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, who is also the island's highways minister, said he believed Holmes had taken a bribe from the Tamil Tigers and had deliberately tried to harm Sri Lanka's reputation.

Jeyaraj Fernandopulle
Jeyaraj Fernandopulle
"I would say Holmes is completely a terrorist, a terrorist who supports terrorism. We consider people who support terrorists also terrorists," Fernandopulle was quoted by Reuters as telling the briefing in the Sinhala language.

"So Holmes, who supports the LTTE (Tamil Tigers), is also a terrorist. This person tries to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka internationally," he added. "I think the LTTE has bribed Holmes."

Sir Holmes told Reuters in an interview published last Thursday: "There is a concern ... about the safety of humanitarian workers themselves and the record here is one of the worst in the world from that point of view."

"We've seen almost 30 humanitarian workers killed over the last 18 months or so," he added, calling on the government to probe civil war abuses and consider an international rights monitoring mission.

Holmes said he had positive and frank discussions with government officials, and had been reassured that abuses would be looked into. He called on the government and the Tigers to ensure aid workers have access to the needy, and called for respect of international humanitarian law.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minster rejected the UN Under-Secretary-General’s assertions.

"The government of Sri Lanka, in no uncertain terms, rejects John Holmes' assertion that Sri Lanka is not safe for humanitarian workers," Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake said in a statement to parliament.

"The government cannot but feel that Sir John has contributed to those who seek to discredit the government and tarnish its international image," he added. "It cannot but utterly reject the remarks by him in his interview with Reuters."

Meanwhile on Tuesday Rajiva Wijesinha, head of the government's peace secretariat wrote to Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, lambasting ACF over the massacre of its aid workers last August and calling for an independent probe.

But international ceasefire monitors have blamed the massacre of the 17 aid workers in the eastern town of Muttur on Sri Lankan security forces. The government has rejected the accusation and attacked the monitors.

All but one of the murdered aid workers , a Muslim, were Tamils. They found shot dead execution style in their office compound.

"We have not dealt firmly enough with the original reason for the tragedy, which was the utter irresponsibility of the ACF organisation in putting such workers at risk," Wijesinha wrote.

"There is no doubt that such negligence, if addressed in a European court of law, would have resulted in the award of massive damages to the grieved families, rather than the puny amounts that I gather from NGO sources have been awarded," he added.

Responding to the accusation, ACF called for an independent international probe.

"If they want an inquiry, ACF agrees to cooperate, as long as it is an international and independent inquiry," Loan Tran-Thanh, head of ACF's Sri Lanka mission, told Reuters.

"The main point is we shouldn't forget our focus, which is who did the killing and who held the weapons."


External Links:
Reuters: INTERVIEW-Sri Lanka a top danger spot for aid workers-UN
UN: John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs
AI: Whereabouts unknown - thousands still missing worldwide
Reuters: Top Sri Lanka official calls UN aid chief "terrorist"


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