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Sri Lanka truce monitor takes heart from criticism

Written by: Staff

COLOMBO, Aug 31 (Reuters) Forced out of Sri Lanka after just five months by the Tamil Tigers and dismissed as biased and incompetent by the government, the outgoing chief Nordic truce monitor takes heart from the fact both sides criticised him.

Major-General Ulf Henricsson has enraged the government with accusations security forces executed 17 aid workers in the island's restive east.

And he angered the Tigers by finding them responsible for a litany of deadly attacks on the military and hundreds of other ceasefire violations.

But the Swedish head of the unarmed Nordic Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), which now oversees what is left of a paper truce, prefers to be in no-man's land.

''That's the rule of peacekeeping. You have to live with it. I'm happy both parties knock me,'' he said in an interview, wrapping up his final day in the job ahead of a September 1 deadline for all European Union monitors to leave in light of a new terror ban by the 25-nation bloc on the Tigers.

''I should be more worried if it was just one party. Then you have to think if you're biased,'' he added.

Henricsson had already accused troops of being involved in extrajudicial killings of Tamils in the north and east as the island's four-year truce gave way to a new chapter of a two-decade war that has killed more than 65,000 people since 1983.

He also saw links between troops and a breakaway rebel faction led by former Tiger commander Colonel Karuna - whose attacks on the mainstream rebels escalated the violence - which again angered the government.

Then yesterday, he put the blame for the murder of local aid staff of international aid organisation Action Contre la Faim squarely at the government's door, triggering a storm and outraging officials.

The victims, mostly Tamils, were found shot dead in their compound in the northeastern town of Mutur, around 220 km northeast of the capital Colombo. It was the worst mass murder of aid staff since a 2003 bomb attack on the United Nations compound in Baghdad.

The government's defence spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, accused Henricsson of letting his imagination run wild and of overstepping his mandate.

TRUST Henricsson thinks the government is yet to give a complete account of what happened.

''I will have some problems to trust a government investigation now because they are too involved in this case,'' he said. ''I think they have at least not told the whole truth.

''A democratic and accountable government should support an international commission to look into this case,'' he added. ''This is not just a Sri Lankan problem. This is a worldwide problem if you can kill aid workers without any punishment.'' Henricsson, will be succeeded by Norwegian Major-General Lars Johan Solvberg, who is left with a mission depleted to just 20 staff from non-EU states Norway and Iceland - around a third of its original strength.

The Tamil Tigers demanded that staff from EU states Denmark, Finland and Sweden leave the SLMM after the European Union banned Tiger rebels as terrorists in May.

And Henricsson's parting advice for the government and Tigers alike after weeks of bloody fighting that has killed hundreds of rebels, troops and civilians and displaced more than 200,000 people? ''To look into what they have achieved the last two months. I would say nothing more than even more people killed,'' Henricsson said. ''I'm still convinced there is not a military solution.

''This country needs courageous leaders that dare to do what is necessary on the political scene down here.'' REUTERS LL VV1900

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