Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Another five TRO staff reported missing

Five persons, four Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) Pre School Education Development Center (PSEDC) personnel, and their driver, have been reported missing in the East, the TRO said in a press release issued Tuesday evening. The team, which was expected to have returned to the Kilinochchi FORUT office Tuesday, had left Valaichchenai, Batticaloa District, Sunday around 7:00 p.m. The PSEDC personnel had gone to Batticaloa to carry out the final assessment of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) funded Temporary Pre School Construction Project for Tsunami Welfare Centers and to evaluate the progress of the construction of Permanent Pre Schools funded by Save the Children in Sri Lanka.

Full text of the press release issued by TRO's Headquarters in Kilinochchi:

31 January 2006
23:00 Sri Lanka Time

2nd Group Missing: Pre School Teachers and Administrators Disappear en route from Batticaloa District

The following Pre School Education Development Center (PSEDC) personnel and their driver have been reported missing to Colombo:

  • Mr. Kasinathar Ganeshalingam: PSEDC North-East Province Secretary
  • Ms. S. Dosini: PSEDC Divisional Coordinator Mamunai North Division
  • Ms. Nadeswari: Pre-School Teacher, Vavunatheevu Pre School
  • Ms. Chithravel Sivamathi: Pre School Teacher Vavunatheevu Pre School
  • Driver: Thangarasa
  • Vehicle Number: WP PA 3074, PSEDC vehicle donated by TRO USA

    These TRO and PSEDC personnel had traveled from Kilinochchi to the Batticaloa District to carry out the final assessment of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) funded Temporary Pre School Construction Project for Tsunami Welfare Centers (15 pre schools throughout the East) and to evaluate the progress of the construction of Permanent Tsunami Pre Schools funded by Save the Children in Sri Lanka (36 pre schools throughout the NorthEast).

    The appraisal team was to have returned to Kilinochchi in time for a meeting at the Kilinochchi FORUT office on the morning of Tuesday 31 January 2006. TRO Kilinochchi informed TRO Colombo of the team’s failure to attend the meeting late in the afternoon of 31 January 2006 at which point TRO Batticaloa was contacted and inquiries were made as to the team’s where location.

    TRO Colombo was informed that the team had left Valaichchenai, Batticaloa District at approximately 7 pm (19:00 hours Sri Lanka Time) on Sunday 29 January 2006. That was the last that anyone has heard of the team.

    TRO requests that the Police, Government of Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), the ICRC, Embassies and Civil Society urgently investigate these missing humanitarian workers.

    In light of the disappearance of these five (5) persons and the internationally highlighted abduction of five (5) other TRO personnel who were traveling from Batticaloa on Monday 30 January 2006 it appears that a campaign of Terror has been unleashed on TRO personnel in the NorthEast.

    The Pre School Education Development Center (PSEDC) is an organization that is funded by TRO and implements projects in partnership with Save the Children in Sri Lanka, FORUT and UNICEF. PSEDC supervises the operation and coordinates the activities of Pre Schools in the NorthEast. The organization assures that pre schools in the NorthEast meet the minimum standards as set forth by the government of Sri Lanka. PSEDC also trains teachers and serves as a coordinating agency that ensures that there is a bottom up design and management of the pre school education of the children of all communities in the NorthEast. The PSEDC works closely with the Provincial Education Ministry and the Social Welfare Ministry.

    The PSEDC coordinates the activities of 2,990, 5.318 pre school teachers, and 87,045 children in the NorthEast and provides a valuable education for the children of all communities and works with all communities without regard to race, ethnicity, language group, religion, caste or any other basis.


Paramilitaries abduct 5 TRO staff in Welikande

"Five (5) staff members [of Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO)] travelling from the Batticaloa office to Vanvuniya for training have been stopped by unidentified paramilitary personnel immediately after the Welikanda, (Polunnaruwa District) Sri Lankan Army Checkpoint at approximately 2:00 pm 30 January, 2006," TRO said in a press release issued Monday.

Full text of the TRO press release follows:

TRO has been informed that five (5) staff members travelling from the Batticaloa office to Vanvuniya for training have been stopped by unidentified paramilitary personnel immediately after the Welikanda, (Polunnaruwa District) Sri Lankan Army Checkpoint at approximately 2:00 pm 30 January, 2006.

Fifteen (15) TRO Batticaloa staff members were travelling from Batticaloa. The TRO staff vehicle had registered at the Welikanda army checkpoint and was continuing its journey when a “white van” that had been following them obstructed their path and forced them to stop. Five (5) members were dragged out of the TRO van and forced into the “white van” the others were assaulted and forced to go back to Batticaloa.

This incident occurred approximately 100 meters after the after the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) checkpoint on the A11 road from Batticaloa to Polunnaruwa. TRO Batticaloa Head Accountant Thanuskody Premini (also currently a student at the Batticaloa university) and four accountants from the TRO Children’s Homes (for orphans) in the Batticaloa District: Shanmuganathan Swenthiran and Thampirasah Vasantharajan of Shanthiveli Murakotanchani, Kailayapillai Ravinthiran of Vanni Nagar Palugamam and another as yet unnamed person were forcibly removed from the car. The other ten (10) persons in the vehicle were recent TRO staff recruits on their way to Vavuniya for office training.

TRO has contacted the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), ICRC, various human rights groups, international NGOs, Members of Parliament and other significant actors in the Sri Lankan peace process in an attempt to discover the whereabouts and ascertain the safety of these loved TRO Staff Members.

TRO would like to appeal to the Government of Sri Lanka, the international community and the Sri Lankan Civil Society to make every effort to assure the safe return of these persons to their families. These TRO staff members have been involved in post-tsunami/post-war humanitarian relief and development work with orphaned children and are staff of a registered Sri Lankan National Non Government Organisation(Charity)


Tamil Tiger rebels threaten to pull out of Sri Lanka peace talks as 10 aid workers go missing by Shimali Senanayake

Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels on Tuesday threatened to pull out of next months peace talks over the abduction of 10 Tamil aid workers in the island's volatile east, officials said.

"It will damage the atmosphere of negotiations and make it difficult to resume talks," said Daya Master, spokesman for the Tigers from the rebel-held capital of Kilinochchi. "They should be released immediately," Master said, blaming the abductions on para-militaries supported by the Sri Lankan army. The military denies any involvement.

The Tigers' threat comes barely a week after Norway's top peace envoy Erik Solheim broke an almost three year deadlock to resume stalled peace talks between the government and the guerrillas amid fears that the island was on the brink of war.

The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization or TRO, a registered charity in Sri Lanka with alleged strong links to the Tigers said five among 15 of its members had been abducted by "unidentified gunmen," in the island's restive eastern Batticaloa, about 150 kilo meters from the capital Colombo, on Monday.

Less than a day later, the TRO reported that another group _ including three pre-school volunteer teachers _ affiliated to their organization had gone missing without a trace in the same area. "Under the circumstances, we fear that the same fate has befallen these humanitarian workers," said Arjunan Ethirveerasungham, the TRO's project development manager. "There seems to be a campaign of terror unleashed on TRO personnel in the northeast." He appealed to the Sri Lankan government and the international community to speedily investigate the abductions.

Earlier Tuesday, the United States embassy in Colombo, also urged authorities to "rapidly investigate," the allegations, while appealing to "all parties to exercise restraint and calm."

The kidnappings have been brought to the notice of President Mahinda Rajapakse and there was concern if the incidents will jeopardize the much-awaited negotiations to strengthen a fragile cease-fire.

European truce monitors said they had visited the scene but will return again Wednesday to probe the incidents further. "The LTTE has complained about these abductions and says this may jeopardize the whole Geneva conference," said Hagrup Haukland, chief of the 57-member mission. "We are very concerned as there are elements trying to disrupt the peace process."

The Tigers have been fighting for a separate state since 1983 for the island's ethnic Tamil minority, claiming discrimination by the Sinhalese majority. Nearly 65,000 people were killed before Norway brokered a truce in February 2002. Subsequent peace talks broke down a year later amid rebel demands for wide autonomy in the Tamil-majority north and east.

S.Lanka Tigers warn kidnappings may hurt peace bid by Peter Apps

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebels said on Tuesday that the kidnapping of five Tamil aid workers in the island's east could affect next month's peace talks in Switzerland and added the government might be to blame.

The Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO), which is considered close to the Tigers, said five employees were taken away by unidentified men on Monday in Welikanda, about 150 km (94 miles) from Colombo, after their van crossed an army checkpoint.

"It will affect the atmosphere of the peace process," media co-ordinator Daya Master of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam told Reuters from the rebel-held north.

"This will create panic in the people again. These are innocent civilians. It may be the Sri Lankan forces or it may be the Karuna group," he said referring to a faction led by former Tiger commander Karuna Amman which has split from the mainstream.

An army spokesman said he had no knowledge of the incident.

A string of attacks on the military in the minority Tamil dominated north and east tested a 2002 truce almost to destruction, but international monitors said tensions fell after the two sides agreed last week to hold direct negotiations.

Diplomats warn more clashes, killings or disappearances could kill the Geneva talks before they began, with a host of parties from rogue Tigers to the Karuna group to Sinhalese majority nationalists seen keen to provoke war.

SHADOW WAR Cease-fire?

The Tigers last week said they would cease military action provided the government did the same and abuses against the Tamil minority stopped. Since then, one militant was killed in an attack widely blamed on the Karuna group, but the rebels said the Geneva talks remained on.

Diplomats say the meeting has a real hope of avoiding a return to the two-decade old conflict that has already killed over 64,000. But the gulf between the two sides remains vast -- with little common ground over demands for a Tamil homeland -- and aid agencies continue to draw up contingency plans for war.

The kidnapping of the aid workers took place on the main road to the east near a stronghold of the former Tiger commander Karuna Amman, who the rebels say is now a government-supported paramilitary who has been fighting them.

"They had just gone through an army checkpoint," said TRO project consultant Arjunan Ethirveerasingam, adding that his organisation did not know who was behind the kidnapping.

"A white van forced them off the road. Five of them were long-term TRO employees. They were taken. The other 10 were new TRO recruits and they let them go."

The government denies backing Karuna's group, but truce monitors say they have at least been turning a blind eye to his "shadow war". With no clear role in a peaceful Sri Lanka, diplomats fear he might be trying to sabotage the talks.

On Tuesday, Sri Lankan newspapers published a statement apparently from Karuna saying he was calling a unilateral cease-fire to help the government's peace efforts, but there was no way of immediately confirming its authenticity.