AID AGENCIES were pulling out of northern Sri Lanka this week following the massacre of 20 aid workers, many of whom were engineers, in the battletorn town of Muttur on Sunday.
Seventeen of the killed workers were with poverty relief charity Action Contre la Faim (ACF - Action Against Hunger), and three belonged to emergency shelter charity Architectes de l'urgence.
The ACF employees were a mix of water, sanitation and agricultural engineers, working principally on water supply and sanitation provision immediately before their murder, said an ACF spokesman.
'They were a mix of engineers and project managers. One of our drivers was also killed, ' he said. 'Fifteen of them were shot at close range in the house where they were staying.
'We recovered the bodies of another two of our colleagues from a car - we believe they had been trying to escape.'
The ACF spokesman said it was not clear whether the murders had been carried out by government troops or by Tamil Tiger rebels, who the government is intent on defeating.
'There was heavy bombing of roads out of Muttur. We had contacted the compound there and ordered an evacuation, but it was impossible to leave safely.
'Our colleagues were sheltering in their house. All were wearing T-shirts with the ACF identity on.'
Humanitarian services programme manager at disaster relief charity RedR-IHE Silva Lauffer said that RedR-IHE had suspended operations in Sri Lanka following the killings.
Lauffer said that staff working for non-governmental organisations had been advised to wear clothes that made it clear they worked for aid organisations, and to drive in clearly marked vehicles.
'However, that advice could now change, as the killers have clearly targeted aid workers, ' she said.
The British charity Oxfam confirmed that it had already withdrawn staff from Muttur before the heaviest fighting had got under way.
ACF engineers and aid workers in Trincomalee were killed while providing water and sanitation to people displaced by fighting in north east Sri Lanka.