05/23/2007, 00.00
SRI LANKA

Catholics ask government for a Zone of Peace around Madhu Shrine

by Melani Manel Perera
The intensification of the military confrontation between rebels and army has forced the International Red Cross to pull its staff from the north of the country. A Catholic weekly urges Catholics to reject violence and calls on the government to show Tamil Tigers its good faith by creating a zone of peace around the country’s most famous Marian shrine

Colombo (AsiaNews) – With no peace in sight in Sri Lanka, the military escalation between army and Tamil rebels has forced the International Red Cross (IRC) to pull its staff from Sri Lanka’s northern regions for “security reasons”. In the meantime Catholics are raising their voice, asking the government to get back to the negotiating table, urging the authorities to declare Mannar a “peace zone” as a sign of their willingness to talk to the Tamil Tigers. Mannar is home to country’s most famous Marian shrine and is under rebel control—inaccessible to pilgrims.

“We shall not go back until we have spoken to both sides to get greater security guarantees and renew discussions about procedures,” said IRC spokesman David Vignati.

The desperate decision taken by the humanitarian organisation came after two attacks were carried out in the area.

Clashes between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the army have become daily occurrences. Dozens of people have been killed or wounded every day as both parties stand their ground.

Catholics have instead launched a campaign to free the country from “military recruiters, war profiteers, war mongering politicians, illegal detentions, growing racism and violence.”

The campaign was announced in the pages of The Catholic Messenger weekly, one that urges Catholics to “show their opposition to violence through social action.”

In its latest editorial article, the magazine published a long analysis of the conflict, criticising the government for pursuing a full-blown military campaign to rid the north of the LTTE presence despite claims that it was open to negotiations.

“There is apprehension that the government may soon send in ground troops in large numbers to the north to confront the LTTE there, as they have done in the East,” the article said.

For its part, because of its lack of numbers the LTTE is recruiting children, thus violating their rights as children.

“If the government is serious about its claim to pursue a peaceful resolution to the conflict it should announce a Zone of Peace in Madhu.”

Apart from the obvious advantage of protecting the shrine, it would save many innocent lives and could be a first step in restoring mutual trust in the parties.

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