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Sri Lanka ‘pressure’ over murders

[BBC, Monday, 27 July 2009 15:11 No Comment]

_46055240_exhume226ap Relatives of murdered aid workers in Sri Lanka say they do not want to press for more compensation from the French charity that employed them.

They say the Sri Lankan government has given them letters to sign seeking more money from Action Against Hunger.

The authorities deny the letters exist, but the BBC has seen copies of them.

There was an outcry when the 17 aid workers were killed in 2006. Critics say Sri Lanka has a long history of failing to prosecute rights abuses.

The aid staff – all but one of them ethnic Tamils – were working on tsunami relief projects in the north-eastern town of Muttur when they were killed on 4 August 2006.

Nordic monitors overseeing a truce in the country’s civil war at the time blamed security forces, who denied the charge.

Earlier this month, Sri Lanka’s top human rights panel cleared the army, pinning the killings on Tamil Tiger (LTTE) rebels or Muslim home guards.

The commission of inquiry also said compensation already paid to victims’ families of about 400,000 Sri Lanka rupees (about $3,480) was "totally inadequate".

‘Intimidation’

_46114241_20070514120539acf203a-1 A number of relatives of the murdered aid workers say they do not want to sign the government’s letters.

"Money will not help us. We cannot get our relatives back anyway," one family member of the victims told the BBC.

Some relatives refused to comment due to what their lawyers described as fear of intimidation.

The BBC has seen three letters seeking more compensation from Action Against Hunger (Action Contre La Faim, ACF).

The letters were handed to the victims’ families on 19 July at a government administration office in the eastern town of Trincomalee. They were due to be signed and handed back by Saturday 25 July.

One letter was addressed to the French ambassador in Sri Lanka, a second to the country’s attorney general.

"We the heirs of the deceased are aware of the interest France and the French government has taken in human rights aspects especially in the… commission of inquiry into the killing in Muttur of 17 aid workers," the letter addressed to the French ambassador said.

"Therefore we trust that the French government will take necessary steps to oversee the payment of due compensation to the kinsmen/ women of the deceased."

A third letter seen by the BBC commended President Rajapaksa for investigating the killings.

"We are extremely grateful to Your Excellency for appointing a commission of inquiry and ensuring that justice prevailed," the letter said.

"We agree with the findings of the commission that the deaths were caused by the LTTE and the compensation as determined must be paid by ACF," it said.

Workers ‘forced’

A senior government official denied any knowledge of such letters being issued.

Rajiva Wijesinghe, secretary to the ministry of human rights and disaster management, told BBC Sinhala that ACF had done a "very bad thing" by "forcing" its staff to work close to the battlefield.

"Some workers were even denied leave by ACF. They were forced to go towards the battlefield while many other aid workers were leaving the area," he said.

He added that the compensation paid by ACF "for their own wrongdoing" was inadequate.

There was no immediate response from the charity, which has accused Sri Lanka’s government of lacking the will to find those responsible for murdering its staff.

It is not clear whether any of the families has returned the signed documents to the authorities.

[Full Coverage]

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