August 30, 2006

U.N. threatens to halt Sri Lanka work

By Simon Gardner

COLOMBO (Reuters) - The United Nations threatened overnight
to suspend aid operations in Sri Lanka after truce monitors
accused the security forces of executing aid workers.

Nordic truce monitors on Wednesday formally accused the
security forces of being behind the execution-style murders of
17 local staff of aid agency Action Contre La Faim earlier this
month in the northeast.

The government denies it.

"We have no independent information ourselves in the U.N.,
but I say we cannot continue in this area unless people will be
held accountable for the execution of 17 of our colleagues,"
the U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, told
reporters in New York.

The victims, mostly Tamils, were found shot dead in their
compound in the northeastern town of Mutur, around 135 miles

northeast of the capital Colombo. It was the worst mass
murder of aid staff since a 2003 bomb attack on the United
Nations compound in Baghdad.

The Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which
oversees a 2002 truce that now only holds on paper, says Sri
Lankan authorities have obstructed their efforts to
investigate, and says it is convinced no armed groups other
than the security services could have been responsible.

The last of the SLMM's European Union members are due to
cease work on Thursday, the deadline of a rebel ultimatum for
them to leave the island after the 25-nation bloc banned them
as a terrorist organization. Many have already left, sharply
reducing staffing levels.

The military said the north and east had been relatively
quiet overnight, with no major attacks reported.

But the government is insisting that the Tigers must
relinquish a town near the mouth of the strategic northeastern
harbor of Trincomalee, which is a key supply route to the
besieged Jaffna peninsula at the island's far north.

The Tigers, who are fighting for a separate homeland for
ethnic Tamils in the north and east refuse and vow to retaliate
with all their might, and analysts expect renewed war to rumble
on as long as each side believes it has the upper hand.

President Mahinda Rajapakse, meanwhile, prepared to meet
Tony Blair in London and diplomats said they would discuss what
lessons Sri Lanka can learn from Northern Ireland's peace

Britain has previously called on Sri Lanka's government to
ensure it upholds human rights, but it was not clear whether
Blair would address the issue of the slain aid workers.

"It's certainly a good thing the President wants to discuss
Northern Ireland," said a western diplomat. "But I wouldn't
describe it as anything close to a breakthrough."

The government does not rule out a meeting with
London-based Tiger ideologue Anton Balasingham, but diplomats
say it looks unlikely.

(With reporting by Matthew Verrinder at the UNITED NATIONS
and Peter Apps in COLOMBO)