Action Alert Archive
Devastating setback to peace in Sri Lanka: Abduction of 10 relief workers
February 1, 2006
Last week the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers agreed to hold peace talks in Geneva next month, amidst escalating violence which has consumed over 200 innocent lives since hardliner President Mahinda Rajapakse was elected last November. This heralded great relief amongst the war-weary communities of this island nation, suggesting Sri Lanka was shifting from the dangerous precipice of war towards establishing a just and lasting peace for all of its communities.
However, ten non-governmental aid workers have been abducted in two separate incidences in the past two days. This is an alarming setback to the peace process. The relief workers were all from the Tamils Rehabilitation Organization (TRO), the largest non-governmental organization that operates in the marginalized minority communities of the Northeast. Five aid workers were abducted in Welikande, about 100 meters beyond a Sri Lankan Army checkpoint January 30th, en route for additional training in helping refugee communities. The next day, another five TRO workers were abducted on their way to assess a pre-school TRO is constructing with funds from Save the Children.
Residents in the area have repeatedly expressed concerns for their safety from paramilitary groups, especially after five Tamil students were shot while lounging on a beach on the Eastern coast. This abduction is an egregious violation of the ceasefire agreement, and is a pointed message against a peaceful resolution of Sri Lanka's conflict. The United States Embassy in Colombo has expressed its grave concerns for those abducted, and has pleaded for all authorities to "rapidly investigate" these crimes.
This must be seconded by a stronger call directly from the United States government to the Sri Lankan government to regain control over all paramilitary groups operating in Sri Lanka.
Testimony from paramilitary cadres throughout Sri Lanka's restive Eastern province has revealed the government's close ties to these military groups. Some cadres have witnessed government soldiers delivering arms and offering shelter to paramilitary groups, and even Nordic peace monitors have decried the government's deliberately blind eye to paramilitary activities. These attacks are in utter violation of the operating Ceasefire Agreement, in which Clause 1.8 explicitly mandates that the government must disarm all paramilitary outfits.
The politically-motivated abductions of pre-school teachers and aid workers are a painful signal that extremist groups in Sri Lanka do not want the ethnic problem to be resolved peacefully. Sri Lanka is quickly approaching the brink of war, and war can only be averted if the Sri Lankan government reveals its intent to provide a safe and lasting solution in more than word alone.
We are calling upon you to demand the Sri Lankan government exert effective control to provide for the safety of aid workers and all civilians, and implement Clause 1.8 of the Ceasefire Agreement to regain normalcy for the suffering Tamil populations.
The mission of People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) is to end the systemic human rights abuses against the Tamil population in Sri Lanka, and promote equality, rights and justice on the island. PEARL is 501(c)3 non-profit organization led by human rights activists concerned about the situation in Sri Lanka.