05 June 2007
by Simon Gardner
A Sri Lankan Red Cross relief centre in Galle. The International Red Cross resumed work on Sri Lanka's battle-scarred front lines as 16 people died in fresh violence, officials said.(AFP/File/Jimin Lai)Colombo, Sri Lanka:
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has voiced concern about the safety of aid workers in Sri Lanka after the murder of two Red Cross volunteers, his office said, as Japan's peace envoy began a visit to the war-battered island.
Two Tamil Sri Lanka Red Cross volunteers were taken away by men who identified themselves as policemen from a train station in Colombo on Friday and their corpses were found dumped outside the capital two days later.
"The secretary-general is deeply concerned about the security of civilians and aid workers in Sri Lanka and reminds all parties in the country that aid workers have a right to protection at all times," Ban's office said in a statement issued overnight.
Rights groups have reported hundreds of abductions and disappearances in recent months after the military and separatist Tigers resumed a two-decade civil war in which nearly 70,000 people have been killed since 1983.
Nordic truce monitors have blamed state security forces for the execution-style murder of 17 local staff of aid agency Action Contre la Faim in the island's east last year, the worst attack on humanitarian workers since a 2003 suicide bombing at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad killed 22 U.N. staff.
"(Ban) reminds the government of their obligation to investigate the murders of 17 aid workers from Action Contre La Faim," the statement added.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's office said on Monday that the Red Cross volunteer murders were an attempt to damage his and the government's reputation ahead of a meeting with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva later this month.
Police deny any involvement in the killings, which were discovered after Rajapaksa said most complaints about abductions -- many of which are leveled at state security forces -- were false.
Rajapaksa has ordered an investigation into the deaths, his office said.
Yasushi Akashi, the peace envoy of Japan -- Sri Lanka's chief financial donor -- began a five-day visit to the island on Tuesday, during which he will meet Rajapaksa and his brother -- the island's defense secretary -- as well as government officials and civil society leaders.
Akashi also plans to visit camps housing thousands of internally displaced in the eastern district of Batticaloa, where the military said a roadside bomb planted by suspected Tigers killed an elite police commando on Tuesday.
Japan played down any hopes of a breakthrough.
"The possibilities are very low. This time it is a very difficult situation," said Hideaki Hatanaka, first political secretary at Japan's embassy in Colombo.
Akashi would not visit the Tigers in their northern stronghold of Kilinochchi because of security concerns, he added.
However, he would try to push forward an initiative to forge a cross-party consensus devolution proposal to end a conflict that has killed an estimated 4,500 people since last year alone.