Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka: Red Cross hands over bodies of two murdered aid workers

COLOMBO, 7 June 2007 (IRIN) - The bodies of two Red Cross workers who were abducted and murdered by unidentified gunmen have been handed over to their families by the agency's officials in the eastern town of Batticaloa.

Mourners thronged the office of the Sri Lanka Red Cross in Batticaloa District to pay their respects to the two workers who were allegedly taken in "for questioning" by armed men in the capital Colombo and then shot dead.

Red Cross staff and volunteers all over the island observed a two-minute silence on Wednesday evening as a mark of respect for their colleagues, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the Sri Lanka Red Cross (SLRC) said in a joint statement.

They were joined by other humanitarian organizations as human rights activists, carrying placards saying "Never again!", held a public vigil at the capital's main railway station where the abduction took place.

"The Red Cross is deeply moved by the many expressions of sympathy and support that have been received from all sections of civil society," the Red Cross statement said. "These messages have been passed to the family members of the deceased."

It quoted IFRC Head of Delegation Al Panico as saying the killings "have caused shock waves across Sri Lanka and the international community".

"Between them, these men gave 20 years of service to the Red Cross. Their deaths are a loss not only to their families, friends and colleagues but to the communities they worked with and supported," he said.

President orders probe

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse has ordered a high-level probe into the murders of Sinnarasa Shanmungaligam, 32, and Karthekesu Chandramohan, 27, both from the minority Tamil community, whose bullet-riddled bodies were found on 2 June in Kiriella near the central town of Ratnapura.

The two SLRC volunteers, who had attended a workshop in Colombo, were waiting to board a train back to their homes in Batticaloa on the evening of 1 June when their identities were checked by men who claimed to be plainclothes police who then abducted them.

The killings of the two aid workers have caused widespread condemnation both in Sri Lanka and abroad. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the killings and called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation.

UN Secretary-General "deeply concerned"

"The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the security of civilians and aid workers in Sri Lanka and reminds all parties in the country that aid workers have a right to protection at all times," a press release from his New York headquarters said.

"Ban has spoken out repeatedly this year against the intensifying violence between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and called for them to return to the negotiating table," it added.