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Aid Organizations in Sri Lanka Deny Siding with Rebels


International charitable organizations, accused of siding with the rebels in Sri Lanka's civil war, are denying the charge. The country's defense ministry has stated aid groups find continued bloodshed there "a lucrative business" and want terrorism to prevail in the South Asian island nation.

One of the international aid organizations working in Sri Lanka is rejecting the military's accusation it is part of a "vicious coalition" seeking to prolong the country's civil war.

In a statement posted on its Internet site, the Defense Ministry mentioned by name CARE International. It accused one of its local workers, who reportedly died last week in shelling in a "no-fire zone," as being a "hardcore" cadre of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. A bitterly worded military release Tuesday accused CARE and other international aid groups of actively supporting terrorism in Sri Lanka.

From its international headquarters in Geneva, CARE spokeswoman Melanie Brooks tells VOA the organization, which has operated in Sri Lanka since 1950, has never sided with the rebels during the decades-long civil war.

"CARE does not support terrorist activities," Brooks said. "CARE is not a political organization and we do not have any political affiliations."

Melanie Brooks says the government is well aware of the humanitarian mission of international aid organizations, such as hers.

"We do obviously work very closely with the communities in Sri Lanka, with the government in Sri Lanka," Brooks said. "And everything that we do must be done in cooperation with communities and the people of Sri Lanka on the ground."

The military says the rebels, fighting for Tamil independence, are now confined to less than 30 square kilometers of jungle and beach. The rebels once controlled a wide swath of the northern part of the country.

A number of international organizations have recently spoken about the toll the latest clashes in northern Sri Lanka are taking on civilians.

The government has accused the United Nations and other organizations of inflating the numbers of civilians killed and trapped in the war zone.

While some local workers of international aid groups remain in the conflict area, the Sri Lankan government prohibits international employees of such organizations, as well as independent journalists, from traveling to the north. That has made it difficult to verify the situation there.

Sri Lanka's government says since Tuesday more than 1,500 civilians crossed into military-held territory near the last town still held by the Tamil Tigers.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a Tamil homeland free of control of the island's Sinhalese majority. The rebel group LTTE is considered a terrorist organization by a number of countries, including the United States and India.

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