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Top Sri Lanka official calls U.N. aid chief "terrorist"

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A top Sri Lankan government official called U.N. Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes a “terrorist” on Wednesday after he voiced concern about aid worker safety on the island last week.

Chief Government Whip Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, who is also the island’s highways minister, told a media briefing he believed Holmes had taken a bribe from separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and had deliberately tried to harm Sri Lanka’s reputation.

“I would say Holmes is completely a terrorist, a terrorist who supports terrorism. We consider people who support terrorists also terrorists,” Fernandopulle told 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.”

Fernandopulle gave no proof to back up his assertion.

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 Consortium for Humanitarian Agencies, an umbrella group of 104 aid agencies operating in Sri Lanka, puts the number at 34, a figure the government questions.

The government has accused Holmes of bias, helping to tarnish the government’s reputation and indiscretion. The island’s prime minister told parliament last week the government “utterly rejected” his remarks.

Holmes’s visit coincided with the anniversary of the discovery of the massacre of 17 local staff of Paris-based aid agency Action Contre la Faim, which Nordic truce monitors have blamed on state security forces.

The government’s peace secretariat has blamed the aid group, accusing it of negligence and irresponsibility.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government denies security forces have been involved in rights abuses and says a presidential commission is probing the allegations. The government has also rejected calls for a United Nations rights monitoring mission.

Nearly 70,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Sri Lanka since 1983 -- around 4,500 in the last year alone.