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15 Aid Workers Found Executed as Fighting Continues in Sri Lanka


Fifteen aid workers have been found executed in the eastern Sri Lankan town of Muttur - where fighting between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels has raged for nearly two weeks. Other humanitarian groups are trying to reach the town to provide assistance to civilians there, but have been prevented by an ongoing battle over a water reservoir.

Aid officials say 15 Sri Lankans - all ethnic Tamils working for the French aid agency, Action Against Hunger - were found dead in their office in Muttur. All had been shot in the head, and most were laying face down, suggesting an execution.

They had been working to provide ongoing assistance to victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

Muttur has been in the middle of 13 days of fighting between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels.

Relief officials are concerned. Vignati Davide is a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

"The I.C.R.C. local staff is stuck in Muttur town," Davide explained. "We lost contact with them during the weekend. We know for sure they left our offices on Friday due to the shelling that hit slightly our offices. But nobody so far could enter Muttur."

Officials from the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, an umbrella group of Sri Lankan aid organizations, are traveling to the area to investigate the deaths.

Fighting began when government troops tried to secure a reservoir, held by Tamil rebels, who cut off water supplies to villagers in government-held land.

It is the worst violence since Norway helped broker a cease-fire in 2002.

But it is hardly the first cease-fire violation. An estimated 850 people have died in tit for tat incidents between the government and the rebels this year alone.

Senior Norwegian envoy, Jon Hanssen Bauer, is in Sri Lanka to try to save the tattered truce and stop the situation in Muttur from degenerating into all out war.

Sri Lanka endured two decades of ethnically fueled civil war as the Tamil Tigers fought for a separate homeland from the majority Sinhalese.

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