UN urges Sri Lanka to free its staff, respect human rights

UNITED NATIONS, September 11, 2009 (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.

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 thou