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    » 06/25/2009, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Six priests held prisoner and in solitary confinement in refugee camps

    Ranil Kumaratunga

    Four priests of the diocese of Jaffna and 2 OMI missionaries who lived among the Tamil population until the last moments of the war. The conditions are on the verge of collapse and humanitarian organizations have their hands tied. The Army oversees the refugees in search of traces of the Tamil Tigers.

    Chennai (AsiaNews) - Six Catholic priests are kept in isolation in the camps of Sri Lanka. The bishop of Jaffna has requested their release, but has not yet received any response from the Ministry of Defense. A humanitarian worker working in the fields in which 300 thousand displaced persons live tells their story and denounces the disappearance of three government doctors who had circulated the figures of the dead during the last days of war between the army and Tamil Tigers. There is no news of their fate. Ranil Kumaratunga is a name we use to maintain the anonymity of the source of AsiaNews.

     

    The Government of Sri Lanka should immediately release the six Catholic priests who were imprisoned and kept in secret solitary confinement in centres for Internally displaced persons (IDPs). Four are from the diocese of Jaffna, and two belong to Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate (OMI). These priests unselfishly helped Tamil people during the war,  until the last hours of the military campaign. These priests have only helped people. The Government of Sri Lanka has put them in isolation in the IDP camps where no-one is allowed contact with them.  There are fears for their safety, their emotional and psychological conditions, and also for their physical health. The bishop of Jaffna has asked the Secretary of Defense for the release of the six priests, but so far there has been no response.

    After that the army has carried out the operation to remove the leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), in the war zone had been a few people. The military have taken and taken to isolated places because they were the only eyewitnesses of brutality carried out in the safety zone. Among these people there were six priests.

    During the final phase the war, 25 thousand Tamils were killed. The authorities in Colombo must release the three government doctors who published the statistics of the number of victims – data the authorities reject. The three doctors, after being accused of complicity with the LTTE, have disappeared.

     

    The IDP camps are scattered between Mannar and Vavuniya. Approximately 500 hectares of land occupied by forests [equal to 5 sq km, ed] were evacuated and now the inhabitants of the districts of Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu and people living in certain areas of Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya are held in refugee camps.

    Around 300 thousand people live in camps, in tents and temporary accommodation. The tents are five for five people, but house between 15 and 16 people. There is a chronic shortage of water and lack of health services for everyone: for about 1500 people there are only two bathrooms. The request of humanitarian agencies to build at least 2500 toilets is of absolute urgency. All refugees are living in detention and internment centres which lack adequate food supplies, medicine and shelter, with no access to information or possibilities of outside communication.

    Because of the painful situation in the camps a large number of elderly people die of infections like diarrhoea and chickenpox which spread quickly. There is an urgent need to organize relief services and humanitarian organizations must be allowed to work in the camps.

    There is a fundamental need for treatment and psychological support to help people who have been traumatized by war. NGO’s are not allowed to work among the people: they can visit the camps, bringing aid but they must hand it over to the military who are the only ones allowed to distribute it. They control the camps and take keep everyone under constant surveillance. The priests who are allowed to celebrate mass are always accompanied by the army.

    The world is silent before this tragedy. No journalist, no agency, no human rights activist, and even relatives of the IDPs are allowed visit the camps. People who live there are deprived of their freedom and want to know when the government will allow them to return home. The authorities say that the areas from which the refugees come are dotted with mines and it takes time to render them safe, so they must remain in IDP camps.

    The government keeps the refugees segregated for fear of LTTE militants infiltrating the camps. Plainclothes agents of the intelligence services roam the camp, checking on every possible sign that may reveal the presence of cells or supporters of the Tamil Tigers; some people have disappeared.

     

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    (with the collaboration of Nirmala Carvalho)

     

     

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    See also

    27/08/2009 SRI LANKA
    Catholic priests and Hindu religious released from Tamil refugee camps
    The Archbishop of Colombo addressed the issue directly with President Rajapaksa. There are 5 Catholic priests. The Hindu Religious and their families will be resettled in Trincomalee, Batticaloa and Jaffna, thanks to help of the local Church.

    11/12/2008 SRI LANKA
    Refugees flee Tamil Tigers, but are corralled into government centers
    The government continues its propaganda in support of the war against the Tigers. Much of the population is unaware of the real situation of those living in the area of conflict. Rukshan Fernando, coordinator for the nonprofit organization Law & Society Trust: the refugees are living in precarious conditions, prisoners of the refugee camps.

    11/11/2006 SRI LANKA
    Civilian suffering forgotten by the rest of the world

    The Jesuit Refugee Service has drawn attention to the tragic situation prevailing in the north and east of the country. The response of the international community to violence and hunger is "press releases".



    28/05/2009 SRI LANKA
    UN gives full backing to President Rajapaksa
    The United Nations Human Rights Council has approved a resolution in favour of the government of Sri Lanka: army is no longer accused of war crimes; the conflict was an “internal question that did not justify external interference”. Access to refugee camps for Humanitarian Organisations will take place as Colombo government “sees fit”.

    09/07/2009 SRI LANKA
    War of figures on victims of war with Tamil while the emergency continues
    The doctors who accused the army of having killed thousands of civilians in clashes with the Tigers retract their version of events. In the Colombo parliament clashes between government and opposition over the real conditions of refugees and on commitment to their rehabilitation.



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