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Sri Lanka

International community condemns killing of aid workers in Sri Lanka

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Dunbar
UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Joanna Van Gerpen listens to a woman displaced by the recent fighting between the government and the rebel Tamil Tigers.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, 9 August 2006 – The recent killing of 17 Sri Lankan aid workers has sent shock waves through the global humanitarian community. UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Joanna Van Gerpen called the execution-style killings “unprecedented, and perhaps one of the worst incidents in the history of humanitarian assistance.”

The aid workers were employed by the non-governmental organization Action Against Hunger, which had been carrying out post-tsunami relief in Sri Lanka. They were killed during a mission in Muttur, in the northeastern part of the country.

The area has been under siege since fighting broke out several weeks ago between government troops and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), also known as the Tamil Tigers. As the fighting intensified, virtually everyone in the town attempted to flee into neighbouring areas.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Dunbar
At Al Tharique Maha Vidyalaya School in Kanthale, Sri Lanka, which is being used as a shelter for people who have fled their homes in the town of Muttur, a girl fetches water from a tank provided by UNICEF.

Escalating conflict over water

According to Ms. Van Gerpen, the fighting was ignited by a dispute over water sources.

“The LTTE stopped the flow of water into government-controlled areas,” said Ms. Van Gerpen. “And that resulted in the rice fields in that area drying up. The LTTE believed that there wasn’t an equitable distribution of water resources to all areas.”

Conflict followed, escalating into an attack on Muttur and retaliation by government forces. The wave of violence constitutes the most significant breach of the ceasefire between the government and the LTTE since 2002.

An estimated 41,000 people, half of them women and children, have been displaced by the conflict in the northeast so far. “There are two areas we haven’t had access to, but we believe the number of displaced in those areas to be up to an additional 25,000,” said Ms. Van Gerpen.

© UNICEF Sri Lanka/2006/Dunbar
Tents are set up beside the Al Tharique Maha Vidyalaya School to accommodate people displaced by violence.

Appeal for protection

UNICEF is working with the government to provide emergency relief – including essential items such as safe water, sanitation facilities and medicines – to camps for the displaced. The organization is also setting up child-friendly centres to help children cope with fear and distress, and looking for ways to resume their education as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, has condemned the “deliberate targeting” of the Action Against Hunger staff members.

“They were aid workers trying to provide essential services to some of the most disadvantaged communities in Sri Lanka,” asserted Mr. Egeland. “They paid with their lives for their good intentions.

“Given the violence that continues to affect the civilian population,” he said, “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 population.”




9 August 2006: UNICEF Representative in Sri Lanka Joanna Van Gerpen comments on the killing of 17 aid workers there.
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