Charity vows to 'get to bottom' of massacre

11th August 2006, Comments 0 comments

COLOMBO, Aug 11, 2006 (AFP) - The head of a French charity vowed Friday to "get to the bottom" of the massacre of 17 employees in Sri Lanka and said his group was reassessing its operations given the escalating conflict there.

COLOMBO, Aug 11, 2006 (AFP) - The head of a French charity vowed Friday to "get to the bottom" of the massacre of 17 employees in Sri Lanka and said his group was reassessing its operations given the escalating conflict there.

Benoit Miribel, the director general of Action Against Hunger (Action contre la Faim or ACF), said he would visit Trincomalee district where local staff were shot dead by unidentified gunmen last weekend.

A government investigation into the massacre would be closely watched by ACF and humanitarian agencies internationally, he said.

"Everyone wants a light ... focused on this investigation to get to the bottom of this," he told reporters in Colombo.

He said he would assess if it was still possible for a non-governmental agency like ACF to work in Sri Lanka.

"My first question ... is to check that my team here, national and international team, will be okay (to) continue working on the field or not, in terms of security and in terms of humanitarian space," said Miribel, who arrived in Colombo from Paris on Thursday.

He was due to go to Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of Colombo, later Friday to visit the relatives of the 17 slain employees, all Sri Lankan nationals.

They were killed in the town of Muttur during heavy fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

"The government is taking the investigation very seriously. International expertise is being sought," Miribel said, referring to Colombo's decision to invite Australian forensic experts to join the probe.

The ACF will issue a monthly statement on the investigation to maintain the pressure to find the massacre's perpetrators.

The United Nations and the European Union were also keeping a close watch on the proceedings, he added.

The head of ACF's mission here, Eric Fort, denied statements from relatives that the victims had been ordered to stay back in the Muttur office when they wanted to escape the fighting.

"I was in Colombo at that time. I was requested by the team whether to leave. I told them it was not such a good idea to leave. That does not mean it was an order. It was a recommendation from my side," Fort said.

"I am not in the field. It is up to them to better know what is the situation there. That's it," he added.

He said ACF will observe a moment of silence Friday at 4:30 pm (1100 GMT) as a mark of respect for the victims.

The ACF staffers were found dead on Sunday in their office in Muttur.

The 13 men and four women, aged 23 to 54, worked mostly as engineers on water sanitation and agronomy projects for the charity.

Government troops and the Tigers have blamed each other for the execution-style killings.

Following the massacre, the charity — whose 15 expatriate and 224 local workers provided humanitarian relief in conflict zones and in areas hit by the December 2004 tsunami — suspended its local mission to Sri Lanka.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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