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Fate of abducted Tamil workers causes concern

While 13 of the abducted TRO workers have been released, the fate of seven is still not known, reports PK Balachandran.

india Updated: Feb 11, 2006 12:53 IST

The fate of seven Tamil relief workers, who were allegedly kidnapped by a pro-government Tamil armed group in eastern Sri Lanka late last month, was causing grave concern, a spokesman of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation (TRO) said in Colombo on Friday.

It was eleven days since the TRO's workers were abducted, but the Sri Lankan police had made no progress in the case, the NGO's spokesman, Arjunan Ethirveerasingam, complained.

"Unfortunately, there seems to be a dearth of communication, expertise and professionalism within the police force and between the police, other institutions and the public," Ethirveerasingam charged.

The abduction had taken place between January 29 and 30. While 13 of them have been released, the fate of seven is still not known.

Karuna group blamed

From the statements made by two of the released women, it was apparent that the abductors were members of the Karuna group, Ethnirveerasingam said.

"They were Tamil speaking. According to the released women, some of them spoke in Hindi. The abductions had taken place in the general area of Welikanda. All this showed the abductors' connections," he said, hinting at the involvement of the Karuna group, which had broken away from the mainstream LTTE in March 2004.

The LTTE accuses the Karuna group of working with the Sri Lankan military in the latter's anti-LTTE operations, and also having some Indian connections.

The Karuna group is believed to have a base in Theevuchenai in the Welikanda area in eastern Sri Lanka.

Government's case

The Sri Lankan government says that it has set up a large and high level investigating team to get to the bottom of the alleged abductions, and that the TRO is not cooperating with the investigators.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who briefed the media on the investigations, said that "mystery" surrounded the "alleged" abductions and speculated they might have been "stage-managed".

In support of his claim, he pointed out that the TRO had not lodged police complaints within a reasonable time. He charged that the organisation had gone on a publicity blitz in the international media even before lodging complaints with the Sri Lankan police.

The government's case, albeit unstated, is that the TRO is an arm of the LTTE and that the latter has stage-managed the abductions to embarrass the government in the run up to the peace talks in Geneva.

TRO refutes charges

Refuting the charge of non-cooperation, Ethirveerasingam said: " TRO has continuously sought out the assistance (of the police) and urged the police to investigate."

He also gave details about the time and date of the complaints lodged by the TRO and the released hostages, to show that these steps were indeed taken within a reasonable time period.

Denying that the TRO was an arm of the LTTE, he said: "The TRO has no links with the LTTE. It is a humanitarian organisation which is registered as an NGO both by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE, and has offices in Colombo and Kilinochchi. It works under the conditions set for NGOs in these areas."

The abducted persons were on their way from Batticaloa in Eastern Sri Lanka to Vavuniya and Kilinochchi in the North, for training in pre-school teaching and accounts.

Among the trainers was the Scandinavian organization, FARUT, Ethirveerasingam pointed out.

He appealed to international NGOs to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to get the seven hostages released.

First Published: Feb 10, 2006 21:56 IST