August 31, 2006

U.N. warns it may halt Sri Lankan 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, and angry officials accused the
monitors of being biased toward the rebels in their ruling.

"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.

"I will have some problems to trust a government
investigation now because they are too involved in this case,"
outgoing chief monitor Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson said in an

"A democratic and accountable government should support an
international commission to look into this case."

"This is not just a Sri Lankan problem. This is a worldwide
problem if you can kill aid workers without any punishment."

Eric Schwartz, former U.S. President Bill Clinton's deputy
United Nations special envoy for tsunami recovery who is
visiting the island, has called on the government to guarantee
the safety of aid workers.

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 the mission by two-thirds to around 20 staff.

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
Britain's Tony Blair in London and diplomats said they would
discuss what lessons Sri Lanka can learn from Northern
Ireland's peace process.

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)