Five ethnic Tamil relief agency staff disappear in northeastern Sri Lanka

Five ethnic Tamil relief agency staff have disappeared in northeastern Sri Lanka while working on post-tsunami rehabilitation projects, the group said Wednesday, two days after five other employees were allegedly kidnapped. The Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, or TRO, said that "a campaign of terror has been unleashed on" them in the northeast, where most of Sri Lanka's 3.2 million minority Tamils live.

After the disappearance of five TRO workers on Monday, the Tamil Tiger threatened to pull out of upcoming peace talks in Switzerland unless the government takes greater steps to protect Tamils against abductions.

The Tamils, three women and two men, went missing late Tuesday while the group was traveling from the rebels' de-facto capital of Kilinochchi to the eastern city of Batticaloa, the TRO said. They were involved in projects to rebuild the northeast following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

"In light of the disappearance of these five persons and the abduction of five other TRO personnel it appears that a campaign of terror has been unleashed on TRO personnel in the northeast," the group in a statement sent to The Associated Press said. No immediate comment was available from the police. The military and the government, however, disputed the earlier claims of abduction. "There is no security forces involvement at all. These people are making baseless allegations," military spokesman Brig. Prasad Samarasinghe said of Tuesday's reported abductions. "This is a totally fabricated story. That's what we feel."

The Tiger rebels started fighting in 1983 for a separate Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka's northeast, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. About 65,000 people have died in the conflict, reports the AP. I.L.

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