8 August 2006

Emergency Relief Coordinator Condemns Killing of Aid Workers in Sri Lanka

NEW YORK, 7 August (OCHA) -- Jan Egeland, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, today deplored the recent killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers in the north-eastern town of Muttur, Sri Lanka.

"I strongly condemn this deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers", stated Mr. Egeland.  "They were aid workers trying to provide essential services to some of the most disadvantaged communities in Sri Lanka who paid with their lives for their good intentions."

The workers, who were employed by the non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger (ACF), had been carrying out post-tsunami humanitarian relief in Sri Lanka.  The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies (CHA) carried out a mission to Muttur on 6 August and confirmed the deaths.

The current wave of violence in Sri Lanka, which began on 28 July, constitutes the most significant breach of the ceasefire between the Government and the LTTE since 2002.  Some 25,000 civilians have fled their homes and villages in the vicinity of Muttur.  Humanitarian agencies have had no access to the conflict-affected area since the onset of this most recent fighting, despite calls by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Country Team (IASC-CT) in Sri Lanka.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Sri Lanka, this targeting of humanitarian staff is unprecedented throughout the conflict in Sri Lanka.  Moreover, it could have serious consequences for the humanitarian response in Sri Lanka, both post-tsunami operations and those aimed at assisting the populations affected by the recent violence.

In expressing his concern, the Emergency Relief Coordinator drew attention to the statement by the IASC-CT statement released today from Colombo, Sri Lanka, which condemned the killings and called for respect for the ceasefire, safe passage for civilians and aid workers, especially in the north-east of the country, and the immediate establishment of an independent investigation into the killings.

Mr. Egeland expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to their colleagues at Action Against Hunger.  He called upon the relevant authorities to investigate the incident and to ensure that those responsible were brought to justice.

"Given the violence that continues to affect the civilian population, I appeal yet again for full protection for all civilians in Sri Lanka and that the humanitarians be allowed full and secure access to the affected populations", he concluded.

For further information, please call:  Stephanie Bunker, OCHA-New York, tel.:  +1 917 367 5126, mobile:  +1 917 892 1679; Kristen Knutson, OCHA-New York, tel.:  +1 917 367 9262; Elisabeth Byrs, OCHA-Geneva, tel.:  +41 22 917 2653, mobile:  +41 79 473 4570.  OCHA press releases are available at http://ochaonline.un.org or www.reliefweb.int .

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