Reward offered for Canadian missing in Syria
Published Tuesday, June 5, 2007 6:28AM EDT
TORONTO - More than two months after a Vancouver woman went missing in the Middle East, her family is offering a 1-million Syrian pound reward for any information that may lead to finding her.
While the money, about $25,000 Cdn, isn't a fortune in Syria, it may lead to some information on Nicole Vienneau's whereabouts.
"Essentially, enough money so that if someone has to snitch on their neighbour, they can get out of the country,'' said Nicole's brother, Matthew Vienneau, in Toronto.
Her mother, Kathryn Murray, is hopeful, and said the reward may be the way to get information that has so far eluded officials in Syria.
"At this point we are looking for leads and anything that helps us get a lead, you know, whether somebody has seen her backpack, or her camera, or sunglasses, or hat, or knows somebody that knows something,'' said Murray. "Any way we can get at it is important now.''
Matthew Vienneau and his girlfriend met up with Nicole, 29, in Cairo in February and the three travelled through Egypt for three weeks. The couple returned to their home in Toronto while Nicole continued her Middle East trek.
Nicole, a world traveller, has kept in touch with family and friends though e-mails every two weeks during her past treks. In fact, it was a rule her parents imposed when she went on her first adventure shortly after high school.
On her jaunt through Jakarta -- before the Internet was so widely available -- Nicole failed to call her mom after a two-week period, so Murray called the embassy.
Turns out she was on an island where there were no telephones.
"We told her `Well you knew what the rule was. You will now be stopped at every border check for the rest of your holiday because your passport is on alert. . . the rest of her trip was hell,'' Murray said.
After that incident, Murray said she never missed the two-week rule even if she only had two seconds to say: "I'm alive. I have to go.''
But e-mail made keeping contact with her daughter a lot easier.
So when an Easter greeting e-mail went unanswered, Murray was concerned. The minute she didn't make the two-week check-in, her mother called the embassy.
Since then, Nicole's travelling gear and journal were found at the hotel in Syria where she was staying.
Vienneau travelled to Syria with Nicole's longtime partner, Gary Schweitzer, to see what information they could find.
In Syria, the two men contacted officials in Damascus and spoke with foreign affairs in Ottawa and with the RCMP.
After weeks of asking questions and trying to retrace Nicole's steps, they learned she left a hotel north of Damascus on March 31 to embark on a day trip to examine ruins about 60 kilometres away.
Both Vienneau and Schweitzer returned to Canada without a clear picture of why she never came back from the day trip.
Vienneau said the family just wants to know what has happened to her.
"We honestly hope she's alive and available and can be found and she'll be okay,'' he said. "The reality of 65 days make it increasingly unlikely . . . On the other hand, I mean, we don't have a body yet.''
In addition to the reward posters, Vienneau has a blog with daily entries to update the public on Nicole's case. But other than well wishes from strangers, the blog has yielded nothing to locate his sister.
He is contemplating making her journal entries available online, hoping to tweak memories of any travellers who may have seen her.
Not satisfied to leave it in cyberspace, Nicole's mother is planning to travel to Damascus to make a plea to the Syrian people.
"We want to keep it in the forefront of people's minds,'' said said.
"We've talked with the embassy and they think it's a good idea if the parents show up,'' she said.
Murray has heard that parents are held in high esteem in the Middle East. She's hoping her visit will carry more weight with the Syrian people.
"They have found absolutely nothing, which suggests that there is a very good chance she still is alive,'' she said. "If she was not alive then they would have possibly recovered a body.
"We will keep searching till we find her.''