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Asia-pacific

UN concerned about arrested staffers

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-09-11

The United Nations has told Sri Lanka that it is worried about reports of mistreatment of two of its staffers arrested in Sri Lanka and held without charge since June, suspected by the government of working with Tamil separatist rebels.

AFP - The United Nations on Thursday called on Sri Lanka to respect the human rights of two UN employees who have been held without charge since June on suspicion of collaborating with Tamil separatists.

"The UN has been and is extremely concerned about the continuing case of the two national UN staff members detained by the Sri Lankan authorities in June," deputy UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.

She said the two men, both Tamils, had been traveling in the area around Vavuniya, an embattled northern town that served as a de facto front line in the decades-old civil war that climaxed with a massive offensive in May by Sri Lankan troops who defeated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

"The UN has been particularly concerned about suggestions that the two staff members may have been mistreated in the first days of their detention," Okabe said.

"If these allegations are validated, this will be a violation of Sri Lankan and international law."

Okabe said the United Nations raised the allegations with the Sri Lankan government "both orally and in writing" and called for "due process to be swiftly applied."

"The government should duly notify the secretary-general of the case and any charges against the two men and request for the immunity as UN staff to be waived, or they should be released," Okabe said.

One of the two men disappeared June 11 and the other two days later, and their arrests by authorities were revealed June 20 by the UN office in the capital Colombo.

One of them, Charles Raveendran Navaratnam, was working for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Vavuniya, while the other, Kanthasamy Sounthararajan, worked for the UN Office for Project Services.

According to complaints put before the Supreme Court by the men's lawyers, copies of which were obtained by AFP, the two men were mistreated, particularly in the initial days of their detention, by police who suspected them of collaborating with the LTTE, which the government considers a terrorist organization.

The UN comments come just days after its communications chief for UNICEF in Sri Lanka, James Elder, was ordered to leave the country after accusations he was being biased towards the LTTE.

The Sunday expulsion decision was denounced Tuesday by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

Sri Lankan troops finally took control of the last patch of territory held by the Tamil Tigers in May, and killed the group's founder and leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.

The separatist conflict had claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1972.
 

Date created : 2009-09-11

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