12/19/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Bishops request Christmas ceasefire. Sri Lankan government says no

by Melani Manel Perera
Catholic and Anglican bishops are asking for a ceasefire to alleviate the situation for civilians. For the army, the condition is that the Tigers lay down their weapons. The appeal asks both parties for the creation of a buffer zone, in collaboration with the Red Cross. Meanwhile, the offensive continues in the northern part of the island.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - No ceasefire in the war against the Tamil Tigers for the holidays of Christmas and New Year's. Despite the appeal from the Catholic and Anglican bishops, the government of Colombo does not intend to establish a ceasefire in its conflict with the LTTE.

On December 15, the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Sri Lanka issued their appeal for the suspension of hostilities. The request of the prelates in Colombo, Kurunegala, and the areas in the northern part of the island engaged in conflict is intended above all to offer a period of relative peace for the civilian population.

The director of the Media Centre for National Security, Lakshman Hulugalla, says that "the government has categorically said that it would go in for a ceasefire only if the Tigers laid down their arms. Until then, there will be no decision of a ceasefire."

The bishops are also asking the government and the LTTE to work in coordination with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in order to create a buffer zone in which civilians would be able to find shelter from the violence. The document reads: "We also earnestly appeal to both parties to seriously consider setting up safe zones for civilians with the assistance of the ICRC; and urge that these arrangements be honoured by all. Religious leaders of all faiths are also available to help facilitate this process. We are of the opinion that this war must stop, but till that happens such an arrangement will demonstrate our respect for humanity and save some innocent lives from further trauma or even death. We can and must assert that it is possible to care for people even in times of war."

Meanwhile, fighting continues in the northern part of the country, and the government of Colombo says that it has struck hard blows against the LTTE. Army spokesman Brigadier General Udaya Nanayakkara says that "we are trying to capture Kilinochchi as soon as possible as our military operations are going exactly to what we had planned."

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