COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan authorities are deliberately hampering efforts to investigate the murder of 17 aid workers, some of whose relatives blame the military, the island`s chief truce monitor said on Saturday.
As the international community, from the United States to the United Nations, demands a transparent investigation into one of the worst massacres of aid workers in living memory, the government is denying Nordic truce monitors access to the site.
The military blames Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels for the killings last week, amid a bout of the worst fighting since a 2002 ceasefire. The government has promised to conduct a transparent probe.
`I have experienced this in the Balkans before. When you`re not let in, it`s a sign that there`s something they want to hide,` said retired Maj. Gen. Ulf Henricsson, who heads the unarmed Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM).
`You have a lot of time to clear it up. If there was clear evidence for the LTTE to have done it, why not let us in to see it? I think the government makes the situation worse for themselves, because the truth will come out.`
The local staff of aid group Action Contre la Faim, or Action Against Hunger, were found lying face down in the grounds of their compound in the eastern town of Mutur, which was the scene of fierce fighting between the military and rebels.
Photographs taken by fellow aid workers show them wearing blood-soaked Action Contre la Faim T-shirts, lying in rows on the ground, apparently shot in the head. Most were Tamil.
`They are denying us access to the whole area, so we cannot monitor. There were journalist trips arranged to Mutur last Saturday and Sunday. That was possible, but we had no access. Why? For security reasons? Of course not. There are other reasons.`
Henricsson is frustrated at repeated obstruction by both the government and the Tamil Tigers when his team tries to investigate repeated violations of the ceasefire agreement, which is dead on the ground as battles rage.
His monitors say there is evidence that troops have been involved in extrajudicial killings of minority Tamils in the war-ravaged north and east.
The Tigers have also committed a litany of violations, and have given European Union nations Sweden, Denmark and Finland an ultimatum to withdraw their members from the monitor team in light of a new EU terror ban against them.
The three countries are pulling out, cutting the mission from 60 to 20 monitors. Remaining nations Norway and Iceland are to contribute new staff to bring the mission to 30-strong.
Henricsson, a Swedish national, will have to leave -- and thinks it is time the monitors pulled the plug altogether.
`I have recommended to the facilitator (Norway) to at least consider a withdrawal,` he said.
`(The mission) is some kind of political cover for the government and the LTTE to still have the ceasefire agreement on more or less,` he added. `I don`t like to be a political hostage. Why be here, if you`re not wanted, not used? Why spend the money and the time on this?`