ACF aid workers in
WHO KILLED THEM?
Probe shows Army Commandos were in vicinity
Criminal Justice system in Sri Lanka woke up to the killing of High
Court Judge Sarath Ambepitiya barely three years back. And with
lightning speed, the system got the ball rolling. The two people who
spearheaded the campaign to bring the culprits to justice were Chief
Justice Sarath N. Silva and Solicitor General C.R. De Silva, who is now
If killing a judge is a heinous crime against the judiciary, killing
almost a dozen and a half aid workers, execution style, is a crime
against humanity. It is a repugnant act that smells to the high heavens.
On August 4 of last year, as the battle continued for control of Muttur,
17 workers from the French-based Action Contre La Faim (Action Against
Hunger, or ACF) were shot through the head at point blank range while
dressed in ACF t-shirts.
ACF has worked in Sri Lanka for a decade and, at the time of the
incident, had been working in the Muttur area to assist in the supply of
clean water and in the promotion of economic activities for victims of
the 2004 tsunami.
On August 1, 2006, the group of young aid workers from ACF had traveled
by ferry from Trincomalee to Muttur, only to find themselves caught up
in the sudden outbreak of war and unable to return as planned.
The Tigers had penetrated and taken control of parts of Muttur town,
which is strategically situated on the road to Mavilaru where the army
had launched an offensive to seize an irrigation sluice gate that had
been closed by the Tigers. The military rained down heavy rocket and
artillery fire on the area, forcing tens of thousands of residents to
ACF lost contact with its aid workers, who were at their Muttur office
until August 4 when the military reclaimed the town. The tragic news of
their killings only emerged the following day.
Still no charges
Despite international pressure, the authorities have failed to find out
who killed these aid workers more than one year ago. The UN
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, tied his
recent visit to Sri Lanka to coincide with the first anniversary of the
“A full year has passed since this crime. No one has been apprehended or
charged, and in many ways we seem little nearer to the truth. What we
need to know is who did this and why,” said Holmes, “to ensure it is not
Holmes went on to say, “I cannot think of another incident where so many
members of a single humanitarian agency were murdered at the same time
in such a dreadfully deliberate and calculating way. That is why I
repeat the call of the Secretary-General (UN) to the government of Sri
Lanka to investigate this murder with the full weight and force of the
Army commandos were in area
Despite the flak UN officials have drawn, their efforts have not
proven futile—the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the killing of
the 17 aid workers has taken up this case as a priority on request from
the international community.
The Presidential Commission has now been informed that Army Commandos
were in and around the area during the time interval that doctors have
determined to be the time when the killings took place. This is a
revelation compared with the original position—maintained by some
members of the government—that the LTTE was responsible for the
However, accepting that army commandos were around when the killings
occurred does not rule out the possibility of an LTTE hand in them. For
at around the same time almost four dozen military informants were
killed in the nearby jungle—allegedly by the LTTE. Thus, whether these
were tit-for-tat killings or whether they were designed to deliberately
tarnish the image of the military, as the LTTE had been implicated in
the other killings, must also be taken into consideration.
Some also believe that the drastic action may not have been
pre-meditated but simply a reaction in a situation of a war that had
Confusing the picture further, the military’s initial blocking of access
to monitoring mission officials may also be an attempt at concealing the
In any event, the commandos—who, according to entries, were there at
that time—should be questioned.
Government hits back
While the pressure from the international community will eventually
bear fruit, the government strongly feels it is incorrect to browbeat a
The international community feels that by trying to shield those
possibly involved, the Government has been trying to indemnify its acts,
bringing the administration into international disrepute.
Not willing to sit quietly and simply draw flak, however, the
authorities took the ‘matter of the missing bullet’ to the Australian
High Commission. Whereby, Australian Pathologist Michael Dodd, who made
the unfounded claim that one bullet was missing, soon retracted it.
The Government is particularly miffed at the International Commission of
Jurists (ICJ) over its failure to offer even one word of apology after
Dodd himself retracted his statement about the missing bullet. Dodd even
admitted that he is not a ballistics expert although he has written one
chapter of a book on the topic.
The Government is also trying to absolve itself of the charges of
“unwarranted interference” in judicial proceedings it has incurred by
changing the original Muttur Magistrate.
Last August the Muttur Magistrate lost some of his belongings, including
his mobile, which were looted. After receiving his complaint, the
Judicial Services Commission (JSC) through the Justice Secretary Suhada
Gamlath, who was Secretary of the Inter Ministerial Committee on Human
Rights, intervened to expedite the process by relieving the magistrate
from this inquiry.
The original magistrate was then replaced by the Anuradhapura
Magistrate, with the inquest proceedings held in Kantale. The Muttur
Magistrate has, however, already provided evidence to the Presidential
Commission of Inquiry.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Human Rights Minister Mahinda
Samarasinghe have both reiterated the government’s position that they
will continue to seek out the truth in this matter.
Call for independent investigation
According to an ICJ report, Senior British barrister, Michael
Birnbaum QC, found significant flaws in the investigation carried out by
the local police and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID)—flaws
which were based on the allegations made in the Dodd report.
The ICJ report called for a team independent of the police and security
forces to investigate this crime, to identify the perpetrators, and to
report to the Attorney-General, who should then ensure that those
responsible are prosecuted. The ICJ also recommended a comprehensive
witness protection programme be established.
This would be most welcome as a fear psychosis has prevailed throughout
the investigations such that eye witnesses are not forthcoming to bear
evidence in the case.
The ICJ report also maintains that the two magistrates appointed had
conducted the inquest with sensitivity and fairness, and that the
“improper substitution” did not compromise their independence or
The result of the inquest proceedings was the killings were a homicide
and obviously not suicides or an accident. While the outgoing SLMM
chief, in a passing reference, blamed the killing on the security
forces, the police blamed it on the LTTE—both sans evidence. It is thus
clear the case must remain wide open.
Condemning the killing as a ‘war crime’, the international community has
demanded an independent investigation. Yet, before the independent
investigation could even begin, a senior minister shot his mouth off by
labeling the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs a
terrorist, when a clear definition of terrorism is yet to emerge from
the UN even.
It was only last week that Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremenayake also
made scathing remarks about Holmes. It appears that a requirement for
retaining the post of premier and vying for it is ‘international
bashing’ and defence of a government under siege.
In the end, the Criminal Justice system must ensure that crimes such as
the killing of the 17 aid workers do not go unpunished if the country is
to avoid sanctions and eventual intervention. At the same time, the
international community, which is playing a judicious role, should be
fair and objective. (K.N)
Jaffna SF Commander escapes
LTTE using satellite surveillance on targets?
The ink had hardly dried on last week’s column, in which Senpathi
dwelt on the LTTE’s artillery power, when the Tigers attempted selective
targeting of a very senior officer in the Jaffna Peninsula.
Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General G.A. Chandrasiri was
targeted in an artillery strike close to the military’s Forward Defence
Lines (FDLs). The incident, which sent shock waves through the defence
hierarchy, was kept under wraps.
The LTTE had previously targeted another Commander, Army Commander Lt.
Gen. Sarath Fonseka, on April 25 last year in a suicide blast that put
him out of action for three months. General Fonseka, a battle hardened
veteran who had been seriously injured at least twice before, was soon
back in action and proved his mettle with results to show.
Even as Fonseka was indisposed, however, the LTTE struck and killed the
deputy chief of staff Major General Parami Kulatunga in another suicide
blast—achieved, of course, with connivance from within.
General Chandrasiri, who is seen as a possible future Army Commander,
was lucky to escape the attack this week and the authorities would do
well to investigate whether General Chandrasiri’s movements are being
monitored by the LTTE through a mole.
The army is now closely monitoring its men and the LTTE, which has put
the suicide bomber to good use in the past, is now finding it difficult
to penetrate the security ring of senior military officers. Thus the
next best option for the LTTE is to accurately target key officers
through artillery strikes.
It is clear that LTTE artillery fire has targeted high value
concentrations with shooting directed to coordinates provided. There
have been two classic examples where the LTTE has succeeded in this in
the recent past.
The first was the artillery strike in February this year, which occurred
in the Kodikamam area during a conference where the Mechanised Infantry
Brigade was inaugurated. In that strike, Brigade Commander Lt. Col.
Ralph Nugera and 13 others—including two of his Commanding officers—were
injured. The strike came from three directions including Pallai and
Pooneryn. One of the injured Commanding officers has since returned to
the front while the other Commanding officer and the Brigade Commander
himself are still indisposed. The 531 Acting Brigade Commander is
currently Lt. Col. Shantha Dissanayaka from Gajaba Regiment.
The second example was similar and occurred when a group of journalists
were taken on a guided tour of Muhamalai last year after the Security
Forces successfully thwarted an attack by the Tigers on the FDLs. Just
as the Armoured Personnel Carrier carrying the journalists came to a
halt, artillery fire rained in that direction and a security force
personnel on guard had his head blown off.
This week’s reconnaissance mission by the Tigers was only undertaken to
mislead the forces as the LTTE was not in a position to take on the army
across the FDLs where the army is well entrenched.
The LTTE, which now has 22 122mm artillery guns, a couple of 152mm
long-range guns, and 130 mm artillery guns are now mastering the art of
The defence authorities would do well to ascertain through intelligence
and other means whether the Tigers were using satellite surveillance by
obtaining real time images at a huge cost from companies operating in
several countries including France where there is a large Tamil
The LTTE has never hesitated to go for the latest in technology as it
has the funds through which to finance this. In some instances the LTTE
has even led the way only to be followed by the military, which has
Meanwhile, there has been relative calm with the cease-fire in the Madhu
area holding during the festive season. But, according to military
intelligence, in places including Papakadathahn and Kalmadu in the
greater Madhu region, the LTTE has installed its big guns.
It is learned that the Tigers have buried anti personnel mines and booby
traps on the FDLs to prevent any possible breakthrough by the security
forces. In the Wanni, the LTTE is waiting for the troops to take them on
in a war of attrition. This comes months after the troops routed the
LTTE in the East, which has left the Tigers still licking their wounds
waiting for the right time to strike back.