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French charity welcomes inquiry into aid worker massacre in Sri Lanka

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 31 March 2014 15:38 GMT

A Tamil woman cries as she holds up an image of her disappeared family member during Sri Lanks's civil war, August 27, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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Sri Lanka has been under international pressure to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in the final stage of its civil war

NEW DELHI, March 31 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - French charity Action Contre La Faim (ACF) has welcomed a United Nations resolution which paves the way for an inquiry into human rights abuses committed during Sri Lanka's civil war, including the massacre of 17 of its aid workers eight years ago.

The ACF workers were murdered outside their office in the town of Muttur in the mainly Tamil north of Sri Lanka in August 2006. The charity said they were lined up and shot at point blank range.

"This is a great victory for the families of our colleagues, a huge relief for everyone working for ACF, and a huge step forward for people who suffered abuse and exactions," Serge Breysse, ACF's advocacy director, said in a statement on Monday.

"We've campaigned for justice for seven years. An international and independent inquiry into the deaths of our colleagues can finally be implemented and a message be sent that the killing of civilians and humanitarian workers will not go unpunished."

The U.N. Human Rights Council last week launched an inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed by both the Sri Lankan army and Tamil rebels during the 26-year-old conflict which ended in 2009, saying the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa had failed to investigate properly.

Sri Lanka, which rejected the resolution, has been under international pressure to investigate war crimes allegedly committed in the final stage of the conflict, when the army defeated separatist Tamil Tiger rebels.

Colombo says the island nation has made tangible progress in addressing accountability and that a parallel process would be counter-productive.

The ACF aid workers, mostly ethnic Tamils, were providing water and sanitation to survivors of the 2004 tsunami when Tamil Tiger fighters launched an offensive against government troops to take control of Muttur.

Trapped in their office, the aid workers lost radio contact with their head office.

Two days later, the bloated bodies of 15 men and women were discovered lying face-down in the ACF compound with bullet wounds to the head and neck. Two other bodies were found in a vehicle nearby. They were killed possibly trying to escape.

No one has been held accountable for the murders, let alone been arrested and charged, says Paris-based ACF, which has been running a campaign called "Justice for Muttur."

ACF says its own inquiry into the massacre reveals evidence implicating members of Sri Lanka's security forces in the murders of its workers.

The Sri Lankan government however has denied responsibility and has blamed defeated Tamil Tiger fighters for the killings.

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