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Last Updated: Monday, 7 August 2006, 11:21 GMT 12:21 UK
Sri Lanka aid workers 'shot dead'
Aid distribution in Muttur
Aid is brought to families in the violence-torn town of Muttur
Fifteen local employees of a French charity have been found shot dead in the strife-torn town of Muttur in northern Sri Lanka, aid workers say.

An official from the group, Action Against Hunger (AAH), said the bodies had been found in the agency's office.

Fighting between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels erupted in the Muttur area more than two weeks ago.

In a separate development, military officials say that a senior policeman has been killed by a bomb near Kandy.

A government spokesman told the Associated Press news agency that Upul Seneviratne, was killed by a "suspected rebel bomb" near the famous Buddhist holy city in the centre of the country.

"By all accounts we have, he was killed by the terrorists," the spokesman said.

Mr Seneviratne was in charge of the Special Task Force, a counter-terrorism commando unit.

Renewed shelling

Fighting in the Muttur area began after the rebels cut the water supply to mostly Sinhalese villages.

Map of Trincomalee, Sri Lanka

The army on Monday is reported to have resumed shelling of rebel positions in the north-eastern district of Trincomalee.

The attacks came despite a Tamil Tiger agreement to allow the reservoir to be reopened and a warning by the rebels that they would regard renewed shelling as a declaration of war.

The Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, which found the bodies of the aid workers, said it was unclear who had committed the killings.

The government has said that it will order a "clean and independent" probe into the killings of the 11 men and four women who worked for AAH.

"We can't come to conclusions right now but if the story is correct, it will be a very high priority investigation," Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told the French news agency, AFP.

The Director-General of AAH, Benoit Miribel, said that the charity had not suffered such a loss in its 25 years of existence.

The organisation says that it is now reviewing its presence in the country.

He said the group had wanted to send a team to the area but was prevented by soldiers.

Retaliation

The ethnic-Tamil aid workers had been working on post-Asian tsunami relief and reconstruction.

A pro-Tamil Tiger website blamed the government for the killings but the military rejected the claim.

"We did not have people in the area at the time they were supposed to have been killed," military spokesman Upali Rajapakse told the AFO news agency.

The Tigers had offered to open a sluice gate to let water through to farmers in government-controlled lands.

Army tanks in convoy
Recent fighting in the Trincomalee area has been fierce

The head of the rebel movement's political wing, SP Thamilselvan, said the government's decision to resume shelling on Sunday was "a declaration of war".

The head of the Scandinavian monitoring mission, Maj Gen Ulf Henricsson, had been heading to the sluice gate to see its reopening.

He said: "It did not seem so healthy to be there so we left... It seems some people want war rather than water."

The Muttur fighting has been some of the island's fiercest since the signing of a ceasefire agreement four years ago.

The government says it is committed to the truce but the political situation with the rebels, who want a separate homeland in the north and east, remains deadlocked.

About 60,000 people have died since the rebel insurgency started three decades ago.


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