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Lanka aid murder slur
- Army blamed for deaths

Colombo, Aug. 30 (Reuters): International ceasefire monitors blamed Sri Lankan troops today for the killing of 17 aid workers during fighting with Tamil tiger rebels earlier in the month.

The victims were working on tsunami relief projects for international aid group Action Contre La Faim in the northeastern town of Mutur, the scene of several days of fighting between troops and the LTTE.

“SLMM is, with the obtained findings, convinced that there cannot be any other armed groups than the security forces who could actually have been behind the act,” said a statement from the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission.

The government has denied troops were involved in the execution style killings.

The victims, all but one of them ethnic Tamils, were found with gunshot wounds, lying face down in the compound of their office. The killing was the worst mass murder of aid staff since a 2003 bomb attack on the UN compound in Baghdad.

The SLMM statement came only days before outgoing Swedish mission head Major General Ulf Henricsson steps down because of demands from the Tigers that all EU monitors quit. That demand came after the EU declared the Tigers a terrorist organisation.

Monitors from non-EU members Norway and Iceland will remain in Sri Lanka.

SLMM also ruled that a June fragmentation mine attack on a civilian bus that killed almost 70 people was a breach of the ceasefire by the rebels, while blaming the government for a string of similar attacks in rebel areas from April onwards.

Heavy fighting between government forces and the Tigers in August has shattered a 2002 truce, although it still holds on paper. The two sides are now involved in battles around the northeastern port of Trincomalee.

The army said 13 soldiers have been killed in action and 79 wounded in fierce artillery and mortar fire since a new eastern offensive towards the town of Sampur began on Monday.

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