LTTE attack Muttur 2006: Why did French NGO ACF not evacuate 17 aid workers when all others fled town?
Posted on August 25th, 2016

Shenali D Waduge

Why did ACF not prevent harm coming to its staff when they were well aware all civilians, ICRC and aid agencies were fleeing Muttur after the town came under LTTE attack from 1st August 2006 and LTTE had cut off the electricity supply? Why did ACF order their staff to remain in the compound even after appeals were made by their families and the Church Father and Divisional Secretary had personally arrived at the compound to ask them to seek shelter? More importantly, why is ACF continuing its sham performance when even after a Presidential Commission of Inquiry was established, ACF walked away and left the country before it was cross-examined? ACF appears to be trying its best to hide its own follies and cover up its mistakes and neglect of compensating the families of the deceased who died on duty by doing what most NGOs know best – hyped up propaganda drama to hide the truth!

Apropos to Manoli Jinadasa’s article appearing on the Island newspaper of 23rd August 2016 titled ACF cruelly abandoned its workers and compensation too, there are some poignant questions the public need to ask themselves and the ACF. http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=150795

ACF had been operating in Sri Lanka from 1997 and had all of its suboffices in LTTE held areas so ACF knew the ground situation only too well. ACF was also aware that since 2005 LTTE were attacking Muslim villages in the East and LTTE was attempting to take Trincomalee harbour and Muttur was a strategic asset. ACF was well aware that following previous attacks Muslim IDPs were already living in schools and makeshift shelters. Which questions ACF decision to send 17 staff to Muttur jeopardizing their lives when the ground situation was not conducive.

Important dates:

  • 26th April 2006 – Female suicide LTTE cadre attempts to kill then Army Commander Sarath Fonseka inside Army Head Quarters
  • 21st July 2006 – LTTE close sluice gates of Mavil Aru reservoir in Trincomalee district
  • 1st August 2006 –the vessel Jetliner carrying 854 unarmed soldiers was attacked by LTTE on nearly 12 dozen small boats
  • 1st August 2006 – Muttur town was attacked by LTTE who even occupied government buildings and forced police to abandon their posts and retreat to main Muttur police.
  • 1st August – electric supply to entire town cut off
  • 2nd August 2006 – all aid agencies including ICRC pulled out of Muttur (local church father  testified at COI that they had appealed to ACF workers to evacuate or seek shelter but the aid workers had informed that they were ordered to stay on site)
  • The Christian Father and Divisional Secretary personally came to the ACF compound and requested the 17 ACF staff to take shelter
  • ACF permanent watcher left with his family without waiting for orders from Trincomalee and thus only his life was saved.
  • 4th August 2006 the 17 local workers of ACF were killed in Muttur
  • Forensic report established time of death to 4th August between 06:40a.m. and 7:00a.m. – LTTE having attacked Muttur on 1st August 2006 controlled Muttur till 5th August 2006. LTTE’s propaganda machine Tamilnet news item on 5 August 2006 11:04 GMT stays the Military spokesman of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Irasaiah Ilanthiayan told Tamilnet that the LTTE troops by midnight Friday, returned to their original positions as per February 22, 2002 ceasefire agreement”. (Friday 4th August 2006 LTTE was controlling Muttur) This is further reiterated by the statement of the watcher of the Muslim Cultural Centre who had seen crows and dogs hovering and a strong stench when he saw the dead bodies on 5th August 2006 at 9a.m.
  • The Sri Lankan Security Forces claim that it succeeded in regaining control of Muttur town only on 5th August 2006. Clearly, at the timing of the death LTTE was in control of Muttur.

Ms. Jinadasa resurfaces some key factors. Action Contre La Faim (ACF) had been periodically issuing press statements ever since the deaths of their 17 employees attempting to project that there had been no inquiry. Ms. Jinadasa points out that Commission of Inquiry had been held (COI appointed on 3 Nov 2006, mandate renewed in Nov 2007 till Nov 2008 Chairman Justice Bhagwati) and ACF had been found guilty of neglect regarding the safety of its employees. ACF had left midway through proceedings prior to being cross examined. In legal parlance this disappearance tantamount to a contempt of court. Counsel for ACF K S Ratnavel informs COI on 7 April 2009 that his client would not take part in proceedings.

Ms. Jinadasa asks some poignant questions

  • Why did ACF went only Tamil staff to a predominantly Muslim town in a state of unrest?
  • Why did ACF keep the staff in Muttur when by 2nd August 2006 all civilians were seeking shelter elsewhere and even ICRC and hospital had evacuated?
  • Why did ACF insist staff remain in compound when 3 vehicles and 3 drivers could have driven them to safety no sooner Muttur hospital which was next to their office was bombed?
  • What was the point in keeping staff to provide safe drinking water when all civilians had left the town?

Ms. Jinadasa goes on to question whether ACF paid 10 years’ salary compensation to the families of the deceased as the COI had recommended.

She quite rightly questions the moral right ACF has to demand another inquiry having walked out of the COI before it was cross-examined.

ACF had paid the families of the deceased 2 years compensation plus a bonus linked to the seniority of the employee. Is US $ 4000 compatible with European or French standards as the staff died while on duty. Ms. Jinadasa points to the law of Delict for lack of duty of care by an employer. She questions whether the staff have been paid their statutory dues of provident and trust fund and alleges that ACF can be guilty of statutory offences if they had not paid these. What is also noteworthy is that it was the Counsel for the Army & Navy who canvassed for compensation on behalf of the families of the deceased and not the Counsel representing the civil society NGOs.

What Ms. Jinadasa clearly establishes is that the ACF using its propaganda mechanism is trying to hoodwink the masses and divert the public from drawing attention to ACF’s faultlines and instead trying to demand another inquiry at the expense of the Sri Lankan government.

?    Most importantly ACF must explain why they insisted on the 17 staff going when some of them made reservations about going?

?    ACF must explain why it chose to keep its staff when all civilians, NGOs, ICRC and even the hospital staff and patients were evacuating – to whom were the ACF staff to provide water when it was a ghost town by 2nd August 2006.

?    ACF must explain why they chose to ignore appeals by parents/families of the 17 employees begged to bring back their children?

?    Would a foreign NGO keep staff even after the hospital next to the ACF office was bombed by LTTE artillery?

?    When vehicles and drivers were available why did ACF insist that staff remain in the compound?

?    Was it not the fear of losing one’s job that compelled these 17 aid workers who were the sole income providers for their families to remain without going against the orders of ACF? The ACF watcher however left defying orders and only his life was saved.

?    We have to seriously question whether there was some understanding between ACF and LTTE – UTHR (J) report says Trincomalee office of ACF was told that the LTTE had called on them and told them that they were pulling out of Muttur and could no longer guarantee their security”. LTTE made a similar overture to the SLMM asking them not to join the Jetliner vessel that LTTE attacked carrying 854 soldiers.

?    How comical to have ACF complaining of not been given access to Muttur after the deaths when they made no effort to save the lives of their staff!

?    Why did ACF order staff to remain in office when everyone else was fleeing the town to save their lives?

?    Why did the ACF head Frank Kamo not come forward to give evidence?

?    Why did ACF suddenly exit Sri Lanka without formally notifying the Commission of Inquiry or even the parents of the deceased? Is this not a dereliction of their duty and is this not why the parents of the deceased requested the counsel for the army and navy to appear on behalf of them.

?    To hide their guilt ACF in its December 2013 report claims of witness intimidation during the Commission proceedings strange that the ACF Counsel K S Ratnavale never made such objections during the Inquiry.

Before ACF continues to mislead the public and the international community it is time they disclose how much they paid as compensation to the families of the deceased and whether they also paid all statutory dues to them as well. Apart from the media tamashas what else have they done to these families given that these 17 aid workers died on duty especially when they were ordered not to leave the office when all others were fleeing the town for safety.

If ACF has been crying crocodile tears without meeting these basic obligations, it goes to highlight the hypocrisy and double standards of the ACF and its head and urges the public to take their newest calls for inquiries with a pinch of salt.

Shenali D Waduge

One Response to “LTTE attack Muttur 2006: Why did French NGO ACF not evacuate 17 aid workers when all others fled town?”

  1. Fran Diaz Says:

    Shenali – many thanks for revealing home truths re ACF.

    ——–

    The staff left behind to die by ACF were all LOCAL PEOPLE ONLY ?
    Strange type of ‘caring’ by ACF.

    Govts now and in the future should be very watchful of NGOs !

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