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French NGO urges observers for Sri Lanka probe

Written by: Staff
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PARIS, Aug 9 (Reuters) Independent international observers should take part in an investigation into last week's killing of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka, relief agency Action Contre le Faim (ACF) told reporters today.

''We demand that foreigners who have an international mandate, who can give an account not only to a government but to the international community itself - we demand that these types of people take part in the investigation,'' honorary President Jean-Christophe Rufin said.

The killings of the ACF employees occurred in the northeastern town of Mutur, in a disputed region where fighting broke out between government troops and separatist Tamil Tiger forces in late July.

''In terms of international law it is a war crime,'' said Rufin, a popular novelist in France with long experience of working for non-governmental organisations.

''We can and must demand that the truth come out with regard to this massacre. We accept the proposals of the Sri Lankan government, which is conducting an investigation, but we demand that independent people take part.'' The 17 employees were found lying face down after an apparent execution-style killing, aid groups have said.

They were mostly engineers and managers working on reconstruction projects to help get the island country back on its feet after the 2004 Tsunami, though in recent weeks they helped distribute food and water to those displaced by fighting.

Families of the murdered staff and increasing numbers of aid workers say it appears likely that government troops were responsible for the killings. All but one of the victims were ethnic Tamils.

ACF also said it was suspending aid programs and re-examining its involvement in the area, but that it and other aid groups would remain present during the investigation.

''In any case, (pulling out) is not a decision to be taken by a single organisation,'' Rufin said.

The killings were the bloodiest attack on an aid agency since the 2003 bombing of the United Nations' Baghdad headquarters, which took the lives of at least 22.

Sri Lanka is currently seeing its worst fighting since a 2002 truce, with dozens confirmed killed and some 30,000 people displaced according to aid agencies.

REUTERS LL KP2124 6

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