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 Post subject: Execution of 15 aid workers in Mutur - August 2006
 Post Posted: Tue Aug 08, 2006 2:10 am 
15 Tamil aid workers executed in Mutur
Govt. pledges impartial probe


By Easwaran Rutnam
@ DM / 08 Aug 2006

As shock waves spread over the execution style assassination of 15 aid workers in Mutur the government yesterday assured it would launch an independent and transparent inquiry into the killings and bring the perpetrators to book “who ever they may be.”

Action Against Hunger Mission Chief Erik Forte told the Daily Mirror the bodies of 15 of his employees were found shot dead in Mutur on Sunday.

The aid workers were all Tamils and included 11 males and 4 females who were in Mutur to provide humanitarian assistance to the families displaced by the intense fighting between the government forces and the LTTE in the area last week.

Disaster Management and Human rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, told a news conference in Colombo yesterday that the assassination was a serious incident and would be dealt with according to the law.

“We will conduct a free and fair investigation and bring to book those responsible who ever they may be. This will show our democracy. I have no intention to protect anyone. We cannot let the name of our country be tarnished,” the Minister said.


The Minister also said if the need arose he would get the assistance of forensic experts from overseas to help in the investigation.

“We lost contact with them on Friday morning. On Saturday there were reports that 15 bodies were found in a government area of Mutur where there was fierce fighting between the LTTE and the security forces. On Sunday the Centre for Humanitarian Agencies saw the bodies and confirmed that they were our staff members,” Mr. Forte said.

Mr. Forte is in Trincomalee where the bodies of the slain aid workers were scheduled to be brought from Mutur for an inquiry on the directive of IGP Chandra Fernando.

The UN office in Colombo condemned the killing of the Tamil aid workers especially at a time the humanitarian need in the war-affected areas of Sri Lanka was at its highest.

“We are deeply concerned about the killings. This is totally unacceptable and we insist on the safe passage for civilians and aid workers in these areas,” UN Colombo office spokesperson Orla Clinton told the Daily Mirror.

As usual the LTTE and the army traded charges as to who is responsible for the killing but there was no way to verify who the real perpetrators were as it happened at the time the LTTE and army were fighting in the area.

During the last communication between the slain workers and the Trincomalee office of the agency on Friday morning one of the workers had said “the fighting is getting closer and closer to us” referring to the clashes between the army and the LTTE.

Centre for Humanitarian Agencies Chief Jeevan Thiyagarajah said a team from his organisation had visited the site where the 15 bodies lay and said the victims were shot at close range and lay face down in a group.

Mr. Thiyagarajah however said there were no reports of foreign agencies in the area threatening to pull out owing to security concerns following the brutal killing of the aid workers.

Murder-hit group cuts S. Lanka aid
Fifteen aid workers found 'executed'


PARIS, France (AP) -- Action Against Hunger has suspended operations in Sri Lanka following the killing of 15 of its Tamil employees, the aid group said Monday, warning that the climate for humanitarian workers worldwide is growing more dangerous.

The French group said it was rethinking its entire operation in Sri Lanka after the killings of 11 men and four women who were doing post-tsunami relief in the seaside town of Muttur.

The killings clearly were "deliberate," said Denis Metzger, the group's president. He said the organization planned to ask the United Nations to formally condemn the slayings.

"All the employees wore a T-shirt that clearly identified them as collaborators of Action Against Hunger," the group said in a statement. "In all likelihood, the team was executed."

The aid group said it had lost contact with the Tamil employees on Friday after both rebel and government forces blocked off access to the Mutter area. Confirmation of the killings came on Saturday.

A witness who saw the bodies told the group that the aid workers had been killed by gunshots, Metzger said. The aid group promised an investigation.

The aid group said retrieving the bodies was its top priority, but it still did not have access to them because of fighting in the region. Action Against Hunger has sought a meeting with Sri Lankan government officials to try to clear the way for a convoy into the area, Metzger said.

Muttur has been the scene of heavy battles that have plunged the country into one of its worst crises since its 2002 cease-fire.

The violence was sparked July 20 when rebels halted the flow of a reservoir in the northeastern region to nearby government-held villages, in what they said was retaliation for the government reneging on a deal to boost the water supply in rebel areas.

Metzger said he was worried about a spate of recent attacks on aid workers around the world, from Afghanistan to the Darfur region of Sudan.

"There is a steady increase in the targeting of humanitarian groups," Metzger said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "There is an urgent need to reaffirm humanitarian principles."

Since they work in the midst of civilians, aid workers often see violence firsthand and are in a privileged position to report it to the outside world -- which makes them vulnerable, he said.

"We are witnesses because we work in the middle of civilian populations -- and witnesses are troublesome," he said.

Aid agencies are hiring more and more local workers in combat zones, and they are more likely to become targets of political violence, he said.

Action Against Hunger has been working in Sri Lanka since 1996. The Sri Lanka mission has 15 expatriate employees and 224 local employees.

"The humanitarian values that are defended and promoted everywhere by Action Against Hunger -- neutrality, impartiality, free access to victims, independence -- have been scorned," Metzger said in the statement.

The European Union urged authorities in Sri Lanka to investigate the killings and said it was "deeply shocked" by the recent spate of violent attacks on civilians and humanitarian aid personnel in northeastern Sri Lanka. It also demanded that authorities guarantee the safety of humanitarian aid workers seeking to help civilians.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

 Post subject: A Year Later, Sri Lanka Killings Unres
 Post Posted: Sun Jun 24, 2007 4:04 pm 
June 24, 2007

A Year Later, Sri Lanka Killings Unresolved

Malcolm J. Dodd, an Australian forensic pathologist wrote in a 64-page report that from Sivapragasam Romila’s skull a “minimally deformed” 5.56 millimeter projectile was retrieved. A 7.62 millimeter bullet was enmeshed in her hair. The 5.56 millimeter bullet is used in American-made M-16 rifles, carried by some members of Sri Lankan security forces, though such a weapon could just as easily have been stolen by the rebels or someone else. It is a mystery why that evidence was only belatedly revealed to the court.


Copyright 2007 The New York Times

MUTUR, Sri Lanka — The victims had been ordered to lie face down, arms outstretched, all in a row in the front yard of a white bungalow. Two lay next to a parked van, interrupted perhaps in a bid to escape.

Most of the dead wore T-shirts bearing the name of the aid group that employed them: the Paris-based Action Contre La Faim, or Action Against Hunger.

The bungalow was their local office, where they had huddled for at least three days last August, waiting to be rescued as soldiers and rebels battled for control of this town.

By the time help arrived, their bodies were decomposing. Photographs show crows standing witness on a plastic patio chair.

The massacre of the 17 was among the worst attacks aimed at aid workers in any conflict anywhere in recent years, approaching the toll in the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003.

But nearly a year after the massacre, the most basic questions about the killings remain unresolved.

Sri Lanka’s government, enmeshed again in a bitter civil war and anxious to keep international human rights monitors out of the country, is facing rising condemnation from groups here and abroad who say the investigation has been wanting because of the possibility that its security forces were involved.

They point to serious gaps, including inconsistencies in ballistics evidence that could implicate Sri Lankan soldiers.

The International Commission of Jurists, a Geneva-based human rights group composed of lawyers, released a report in April identifying “a disturbing lack of impartiality, transparency and effectiveness of the investigation.”

Predictably, the rivals in the fighting, the Sinhalese-dominated state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, have traded blame for the massacre, one in a pattern of extrajudicial killings that have become a regular feature of the war. Each side says the aid workers were killed when the other party held Mutur; exactly when they were killed, and who was in charge then, is the major mystery.

[In the latest assault on aid workers, the bodies of two Sri Lankan Red Cross Society staff members were found in early June in a suburb of the capital, Colombo. They were picked up for questioning the day before by men who identified themselves as police officers.]

The massacre here occurred at a turning point in the war, as government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels clashed for control of the east. By Aug. 1, the battle had reached Mutur, a small town that was a tricky place.

Located across the bay from Trincomalee, it had long been under government control, but was encircled by rebel-held villages.

Its population was mixed, with Tamils and Muslims living with each other alongside hundreds of largely Sinhalese soldiers.

Trickier still for the aid group was the fact that all its workers were Sri Lankan nationals from Trincomalee, an hour away by ferry, and strangers to the town. And all were Tamil, except one man, a Muslim.

Foreigners can often shield national staff from harassment and suspicion from the warring parties. But that week, with Mutur already girding for trouble, local staff members were sent out alone. Officials from Action Against Hunger said they could not clarify why.

As the Sinhalese military fought to flush out rebel bases nearby, the Tamil Tigers stormed the town, by their account, around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

That evening, from besieged Mutur, one of the aid workers, Sivapragasam Romila, 25, called a neighbor in Trincomalee; her own family did not have a phone. Her 18-year-old sister, Noilen, ran next door to answer the call. It was only then that she learned that her sister was even in Mutur.

Romila had gone off to work that morning at the aid group’s office in Trincomalee and later, unknown to her family, had taken the ferry to Mutur, which she visited frequently in her work as a hygiene promoter for the group.

Noilen said she could hear the shelling on the phone, louder than anything she had heard before. “Don’t tell mother, but I’m afraid,” she said Romila had told her.

Noilen waited anxiously for two days for more news. Then Romila called again. She told Noilen that the aid group was trying to get them out. She said they were running out of food.

Their instructions to the Mutur group were unequivocal: remain in the house and wear the agency T-shirts, call in to the Trincomalee radio room every hour. Help would be on the way.

Officials from Action Against Hunger said efforts to retrieve the workers were stymied by soldiers, who blocked the one long road that loops through marsh and jungle from Trincomalee to Mutur. The fighting had prevented the ferry from running.

In interviews, the officials insisted that the decision to instruct their employees to stay put was the right one. They pointed out that a church, where civilians had sought shelter that week, had been shelled, killing more than a dozen people.

“It’s easy to say afterwards they should have left,” François Danel, the group’s executive in Paris, said by telephone. “Our decision was for them to stay. It’s in our guidelines.”

By the morning of Friday, Aug. 4, with food and water running out, many of the town’s residents had fled.

At 6:15 a.m. Friday, the aid office in Trincomalee received a final radio call. What was said, including whether the group wanted to leave Mutur with the other civilians, remains unclear. The group said the conversation was not recorded on the radio log, though it would not share its records.

An autopsy did not determine the exact time of death. The Sri Lankan court hearing the case concluded that all 17 were killed early the same morning.

When the security forces reclaimed Mutur is disputed. The rebels contend they cleared out shortly after midnight on Thursday after urging the aid workers to be careful, a contention that is impossible to verify. The military has made contradictory statements about when it took control.

Firzan Hashim, the deputy executive director of the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, an umbrella group based in Colombo, reached Mutur on Sunday afternoon. By then, no one was on the narrow road.

The bungalow used by the aid group had been ransacked. A rotten stench filled the air. The aid workers had been shot at such close range, he said, that the bullets had burned muscle as they entered.

The first serious autopsy, last October, showed that nearly all had been shot in the head, two in the neck.

The evidence presented in March to the criminal court indicated that the bullets used were from automatic rifles, 7.62 millimeter, ammunition used by each side in the war.

But that evidence was incomplete. Malcolm J. Dodd, an Australian forensic pathologist invited by the government to observe the autopsy, recorded seeing something else. From Sivapragasam Romila’s skull a “minimally deformed” 5.56 millimeter projectile was retrieved, he wrote in a 64-page report. A 7.62 millimeter bullet was enmeshed in her hair.

The 5.56 millimeter bullet is used in American-made M-16 rifles, carried by some members of Sri Lankan security forces, though such a weapon could just as easily have been stolen by the rebels or someone else. It is a mystery why that evidence was only belatedly revealed to the court.

The government, apparently to deflect calls for an international human rights mission, has appointed a panel to conduct an independent investigation of the massacre and several other prominent human rights crimes.

The inquiry is separate from the criminal case, and it has not satisfied many here or abroad. The Center for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based advocacy group, said the official commission was no substitute for an international mission.

[In a statement on June 11, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, a government-appointed panel called in to observe the work of the presidential commission, said the measures taken by the commission “do not satisfy international norms and standards.”]

The uncertainties surrounding the investigations have only compounded the mourning of the victims’ families.

The last time Ganesh Sivaneshwari heard from her daughter, Kavitha, 27, was Thursday night, Aug. 3. Kavitha, also a hygiene promoter, had taken the Tuesday morning ferry to the aid office in Mutur.

Her father, Selaiah Ganesh, 54, a driver for Action Against Hunger, was already there.

It gave Mrs. Ganesh strength that week, knowing that her husband and daughter were together. She trusted her husband’s judgment. He was able and well connected, she said, and he would know how to keep everyone safe or get them out.

What is left of father and daughter are pictures on the family altar. On one afternoon, Mrs. Ganesh sat on the unswept floor and wept.

Her husband’s death has deepened her fear. Only reluctantly does she allow her son Gajan to work, so the family can eat. She has sent another son out of the country.

Without Selaiah Ganesh, they no longer know how to keep safe in the madness of this war.

“If my father were here, I wouldn’t be afraid,” Gajan, 24, said. “I am afraid now.”

 Post subject: Missing bullet mystery
 Post Posted: Wed Jun 27, 2007 9:11 pm 
Missing bullet mystery

Dr Malcolm Dodd, an Australian pathologist who attended a post-mortem last October, reported that eight bullets were recovered from seven bodies -- seven 7.62 mm and one 5.56 mm. However, a government analyst later concluded that all the bullets were 7.62 calibre, according to ICJ. “There is, therefore, evidence to indicate that the 5.56 calibre bullet was removed from the evidence... and that another bullet of a different type was substituted,” ICJ said in a statement.

From Times Online
By Jeremy Page / June 26, 2007

A single bullet could hold the key to last year’s murder of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers, which the government and Tamil Tiger rebels still blame on each other.

Michael Birnbaum, a British barrister observing the inquest for the International Committee of Jurists, says that a 5.56 mm bullet is missing from evidence gathered at the scene of the crime.

The Tigers mainly use AK-47 assault rifles, which fire 7.62 mm rounds, while Sri Lanka’s elite military and police units use American M-16 rifles, which fire 5.56 mm bullets.

The 17 local staff for Action Against Hunger were all shot execution-style in the town of Muttur, 140 miles northeast of Colombo, amid heavy fighting between the Tigers and government forces in August last year.

Dr Malcolm Dodd, an Australian pathologist who attended a post-mortem last October, reported that eight bullets were recovered from seven bodies -- seven 7.62 mm and one 5.56 mm.

However, a government analyst later concluded that all the bullets were 7.62 calibre, according to ICJ.

“There is, therefore, evidence to indicate that the 5.56 calibre bullet was removed from the evidence... and that another bullet of a different type was substituted,” ICJ said in a statement.

“Given this new information, the ICJ is calling for the president of Sri Lanka to order renewed, impartial and thorough investigations into the killing of the 17 aid workers... and to ensure those responsible are prosecuted.” The government has denied any involvement and says a presidential commission is investigating the killings.

But international observers say that probe is going nowhere and Nordic ceasefire monitors blame government forces.

ICJ has also frequently criticised the government’s investigation, complaining that security forces in the town at the time were not even interviewed, among other irregularities.

The group’s latest statement threatens to embarrass the government just as Sri Lanka’s top foreign aid donors are meeting in Oslo to discuss ways of halting the bloodshed in the island nation.

More than 5,000 people have been killed on both sides since a 2002 truce, brokered by Norway, began to unravel 19 months ago.

The Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent homeland in the northeast to protect Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority from discrimination by the Sinhalese majority.

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