June 17, 2008 / 9:27 AM / 10 years ago

Massacre aid group quits S.Lanka, wants inquiry

By Peter Apps

LONDON, June 17 (Reuters) - An aid agency that lost 17 local tsunami aid workers in a massacre in Sri Lanka two years ago said on Tuesday it had no confidence in the government investigation and had quit the island in protest.

Action Contre la Faim (ACF) — also known as Action against Hunger — said it wanted an international inquiry into the murders, which took place in the northeastern town of Muttur after days of fighting in August 2006 between security forces and rebels of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Nordic truce monitors blamed security forces for the killings, one of the worst attacks on humanitarian staff since the 2003 bombing of the United Nations compound in Baghdad.

"It has been almost two years and we have seen nothing," ACF executive director Francois Danel told Reuters as he launched a global campaign. "We no longer have any confidence the Sri Lankan investigations will deliver justice."

A panel of international experts invited by the government to oversee the investigation into that and other high profile abuses also left the island this year saying there had been almost no progress.

Relief poured into Sri Lanka, which is embroiled in a 25 year old civil war, after the 2004 tsunami. A string of killings as a ceasefire between the government and LTTE collapsed have given it one of the world’s highest mortality rates for aid staff, who some officials accused of backing the rebel group.

ACF hopes to persuade Sri Lanka’s key established aid donors — the United States, European Union, Norway and Japan — to back their demand for an inquiry, as well as the French government and United Nations.



"NOT GIVING UP"

The 17 aid workers — all but one ethnic minority Tamils — had been working on rebuilding after the 2004 tsunami in government controlled Muttur when the rebels stormed the town.

Their bodies were found in front of their compound by the first aid team to reach it. Most had been shot at close range with automatic weapons.

A report in April by local rights group University Teachers for Human Rights named a police auxiliary home guard and two constables as the main killers, saying the victims were murdered shortly after rebels withdrew.

Danel said the attack would have had more attention if higher profile international staff had been among the dead.

"One thing is certain — we are not going to give up," he said. "It would have been different if there had been, for example, a French national involved because then we could have used the French justice system."

The government and the LTTE blamed each other for the massacre. The government has also said ACF itself was partly to blame for having its workers in the town at the time and said the aid group paid inadequate compensation to their families. Some family members also held ACF partly to blame. (Editing by Mariam Karouny)



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