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UN suspends relief aid to Sri Lanka

UN says Colombo has to explain the killing of 17 aid workers in Mutur earlier this month, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 17:32 IST

The United Nations has said that it will not give Sri Lanka the $37.5 million earmarked for the resettlement of 220,000 war refugees until Colombo adequately explains the killing of 17 workers belonging to the French relief agency "Action Against Hunger" in Mutur earlier this month.

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland told the media in New York on Wednesday, that it was "unacceptable" that the Sri Lankan government had not provided any explanation regarding the execution of the 17 humanitarian workers.

Humanitarian assistance could not continue unless the people responsible for this were held accountable, Egeland said.

But the Sri Lankan government said on Thursday that it had been accused of perpetrating the crime by the Nordic truce monitors without a shred of factual and forensic evidence.

The head of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) Maj Gen Ulf Henricsson had issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the army was the culprit because Mutur was under its occupation on August 4, when the killings took place.

But the government's Defence Spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella told newsmen that as per the forensic report, the deaths had occurred between the night of August 3 and the morning of August 4, when the LTTE was in control of Mutur.

The army, Rambukwella said, had come into the town on August 5 in the morning.

The government spokesman said that Henricsson had issued the statement without having any facts or evidence. He did not have the forensic report before he issued the statement.

Rambukwella said that the SLMM's conduct was "unprofessional and irresponsible."

He, however, assured that the government would thoroughly investigate the matter and identify the perpetrators of the crime.

Denies harassment of relief agencies

Spokesman Rambukwella denied that the government was harassing the International NGOs (INGOs) by asking them to register with the Ministry of Defence and get work permits for their expatriate staff by August 31.

He said that the government had the right to know which INGO was working in the troubled North East of the island, what assets they had, and whether their expatriate staff had valid work permits.

Over a 1000 INGOs had entered Sri Lanka immediately after the tsunami in December 2004, and were working in all parts of the island including the war-zone in the North East.

They were registered with the Ministry of Social Welfare only. But the developing security situation necessitated registration with the Defence Ministry, government said.

Staff from abroad had come on tourist visas but were working in the island. This situation had to be corrected.

Rambukwella said that if more time was needed for registration or for getting work permits, an application could be made.

Food supply in Jaffna adequate

According to SB Divaratne, Deputy Secretary of the Treasury concurrently in-charge of Essential Services, there is no food shortage in Jaffna now.

1,600 metric tonnes of food and medicine had been sent by ship from Colombo, and another 3,800 tonnes would be going on Saturday.

As regards supplies to the LTTE- held parts of Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, he said that lorries with supplies were going.

But 120 lorries were waiting at the Omanthai checkpoint north of Vavuniya, unable to go into the LTTE-held area of the Wanni.

Devaratne said that he had taken up this matter with the Ministry of Defense.

A few days ago, 15 lorries which had entered LTTE-held territory were subjected to mortar firing by the LTTE. The transportation had to be abandoned.

The government had earmarked SLRs 3 billion for relief, Devaratne said. Supplies going from the south to the war-torn north were 20% more as compared to peace times, added Rambukwella.

The government had opened the A9 Main Supply Route from Vavuniya to Kilinochchi, at its end at Omanthai on Wednesday, the spokesmen said.

First Published: Aug 31, 2006 17:32 IST