COLOMBO, July 14, 2009 (AFP) - 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 on 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 (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 UN 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 had not been made public by the authorities. The mandate of the inquiry ended a month ago and the government did not 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 did not allow their staff at the besieged Muttur office to leave when fighting intensified in the area. The report did not pinpoint who was responsible for the massacre, but said troops were not involved.
The commission, headed by retired judge Nissanka Udalagama, has been dismissed by rights activists as a government cover-up.
Colombo did appoint 11 senior foreign diplomats and dignitaries to supervise the probe, but they eventually pulled out in April 2008 saying that the investigations did not meet minimum international standards.