Killings blamed on Sri Lanka

Army executed 17 aid workers, monitors say

August 31, 2006|By Los Angeles Times

NEW DELHI -- The massacre of 17 aid workers in war-torn Sri Lanka this month was almost certainly committed by government troops, international cease-fire monitors said yesterday.

In a finding that drew furious official reaction, the independent Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission concluded that "there cannot be any other armed groups than the security forces who could actually have been behind" the Aug. 4 execution-style killings, which caused an international outcry.

The victims, employees of the French humanitarian group Action Against Hunger, were working on tsunami-relief projects in northeast Sri Lanka. The bodies of 15 workers were found lying face down, with gunshot wounds, in the aid organization's office compound in the town of Mutur. Two others were discovered in a nearby car.

All but one of the dead were ethnic minority Tamils, which immediately prompted suspicion that the Sri Lankan army, dominated by the majority Sinhalese and accused of past abuses, was responsible for the slayings. At the time, soldiers were engaged in fierce battles in the area against Tamil Tiger rebels, who want to establish an independent Tamil homeland.

The monitoring mission, whose members are drawn from northern European nations, said that confidential conversations with "highly reliable sources" strongly suggested military involvement in the killings. The government's refusal to grant the monitors access to the crime scene also indicated official "eagerness to conceal the matter," the group said.

"It's important to have an impartial investigation into this. Of course, it must be an independent international commission. We don't trust an investigation either from the government or from the [rebels]," said the truce monitors' director, Gen. Ulf Henricsson of Sweden. He described the killings as "a clear war crime."

The government in Colombo, Sri Lanka's capital, swiftly dismissed the group's conclusion as baseless.

"We totally deny this," said spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella. "This is a very unprofessional statement" by the monitoring team.

He insisted that monitors were barred from the area out of safety concerns and noted that the government had invited foreign experts to observe its handling of the autopsies.

Officials have steadfastly blamed the Tamil Tigers for the massacre. Results of the government's investigation are due in a few days, Rambukwella said.

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