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UN Calls for release of aid workers in Sri Lanka

UN agencies call for release of aid workers abducted in Sri Lanka

Deploring the reported abduction of 10 humanitarian aid workers on the troubled island of Sri Lanka, United Nations officials in the country today called for their immediate release, saying they had “the right to respect and protection from harm.”

A press statement from the UN Resident coordinator’s office in Sri Lanka said the aid workers were employed by the Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, a government-registered body.

“These are humanitarian aid workers who devote their professional lives to serving those in need,” the statement added.

On Tuesday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said violence between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) had eased since both sides agreed last week to hold talks in the middle of this month.

However UNHCR field offices in Sri Lanka reported that “tensions remain high in many areas; that perceived harassment of civilians by security forces continues; and that some population movement persists,” agency spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters.

This month’s planned talks will be the first direct discussions between the two sides since April, 2003. While welcoming the announcement, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged both sides to strictly uphold the ceasefire.

“To advance the peace process, it will be important to put an end to the escalating violence in the north and east,” he said through a spokesman. “The people of Sri Lanka deserve a new hope that peace could be in reach.” A ceasefire agreement of February 2002 is aimed at ending two decades of fighting between the Government and separatist forces that has claimed some 60,000 lives.

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