B. Muralidhar Reddy

COLOMBO: In a shocking incident, 15 employees of the French non-government organisation (NGO) Action Against Hunger (ACF) were killed in the organisation's base in Muttur town.

In a brief statement the ACF said, "Our sympathy is with the families of the victims. We will do everything to clarify exactly what happened."

Muttur town, under Government control, was scene of bloody gun battles between the LTTE and the military last week.

A team from the Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies, a national umbrella group, had found the bodies "lying face down after being shot at close range," said CHA chief, Jeevan Thiagarah. He said it was not clear who was responsible for the massacre.

The victims, all between the ages of 22-35, were wearing ACF t-shirts when their bodies were discovered. They had gone to Muttur on Tuesday to assist the refugee settlement and were unable to return to Trincomalee due to the heavy fighting.