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Sri Lanka Clears Military In Massacre Of 17 Aid Workers

[AFP, Tuesday, 14 July 2009 06:54 No Comment]

Sri Lanka’s top rights panel has cleared the military of killing 17 employees of a French charity in 2006 and ordered more compensation for the families of the victims, press reports said Tuesday.

The Commission of Inquiry in its final report to President Mahinda Rajapakse said neither the army nor the navy was present in the area as alleged when the massacre took place, two privately-run newspapers said.

Thirteen men and four women who worked on water sanitation and farm projects for the French charity Action Against Hunger, or ACF, were found shot dead in August 2006 in the northeast of the island where government troops and Tamil Tiger rebels were locked in combat.

Nordic peace monitors at the time blamed the killings – the worst attack on aid workers since the bombing of the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad in August 2003 – on government forces.

The government has denied any role.

The Island and the Daily Mirror newspapers quoted from the commission report, which hadn’t been made public by the authorities. The mandate of the inquiry ended a month ago and the government didn’t extend its term.

The Island newspaper said the inquiry accused the ACF of "gross negligence" and recommended that the charity pay 10 years’ salary to the families of the victims.

The report said ACF managers didn’t allow their staff at the besieged Muttur office to leave when fighting intensified in the area. The report didn’t pinpoint who was responsible for the massacre, but said troops weren’t involved.

The commission, headed by retired judge Nissanka Udalagama, has been dismissed by rights activists as a government cover-up.

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