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    » 05/23/2007, 00.00

    SRI LANKA

    Catholics ask government for a Zone of Peace around Madhu Shrine

    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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    See also

    21/04/2009 SRI LANKA
    Army issues ultimatum to Tamil Tigers
    Sri Lanka’s Defence Ministry says rebels have been checkmated, announces final assault. Army issues warning, calling on rebel forces to give up their weapons. Tens of thousands of civilians are in flight.

    28/07/2010 SRI LANKA
    Sri Lanka’s ‘Black July’ not over yet, Christian leaders say
    In July 1983, up to 3,000 Tamil civilians died in Sinhalese-initiated riots that set off the country’s civil war. Today, there are 81,000 widows in Sri Lanka and the military occupies two thirds of the country, CSM member says. Christians are in favour of a multi-ethnic state.

    16/04/2009 SRI LANKA
    Government rejects ceasefire extension, fighting resumes after New Year ceasefire
    War starts up against after a two-day ceasefire for Sinhalese and Tamil New Year. Sri Lankan military turns down rebel demand for ceasefire extension, alleging break would give the Tamil Tigers an opportunity to rearm. United Nations calls for an end to hostilities to avoid “a bloodbath on the beaches,” where fighting is raging.

    13/05/2008 SRI LANKA
    Military to allow the return of the statue of Our Lady of Madhu
    Sri Lanka’s army accepts bishop’s request to demilitarise a 2.5 area around the shrine. In a few weeks, after the area has been cleared of mines and the temple repaired, the statue will come back in time for the Feast of the Assumption, an important moment of unity for both Tamils and Sinhalese.

    15/09/2009 SRI LANKA
    Tamil refugees going home to an open prison
    In villages in Mannar district, the government’s ‘Northern Reawakening’ programme has not brought promised changes. Homes are still broken; services are non-existent, and freedom of movement still limited by heavy military presence.



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