Mgr Harold Anthony Perera, bishop of Kurunegala and chairman of the Social and Economic Development Centre (SEDEC), Mgr Norbert Andradi, bishop of Anuradhapura, and Fr George Sigamoney, director of SEDEC, attended the seminar. Fathers Henry Silva and Reid Shelton Fernando were the moderators of the different sessions.
Clergymen and religious from the country’s northern and eastern regions voiced a number of concerns relating to the hardships and suffering people in their part of the country have to endure, especially resettled families and refugee camps inmates.
In their view, “in spite of the outward appearances of development work, many serious grievances still exist.” They concern “kidnappings, ransom demands, harassment and abuse of women, lack of livelihood and decent housing, loss of land, restrictions on movement from one place to another, continuing trauma and so on.”
After hearing these facts, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith said that he understands that the complexity of the situation. “It is not one we would have welcomed. Unfortunately, there are factors in this country, which are not in our control. We have to be clear about that. Anything said in the south by the Church must not make things worse for the suffering people.”
In any event, “We are not silent,” he said. “We have been very active. Yet, we have to use dialogue as the means to achieve success in restoring normalcy in the North and East. There is a Christian way of reacting, based on the teachings of Jesus. It will be useless if we create more problems. That will not be Christian and won’t help the suffering people.”
Speaking after the bishop, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuthu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and Rohan Edirisinghe, a leading expert in constitutional law, focused on reconciliation and on learning from sharing experiences.
Participants also discussed what the Church could do, as well as how it can avoid past errors.
The conference called for a return to civilian rule in the North and East, the imposition of a code of conduct on the military, the end of emergency rule, and an end to governments-sponsored colonisation, which is depriving Tamil of land.
Finally, Father Sigamoney said he hoped that bridge building between North and South would continue, and that this opportunity to get together and share concerns in a forthright manner would lead to greater understanding and acceptance of the truth.