03/26/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Catholic and Anglican bishops: civilians desperate in Vanni, aid needed immediately

by Melani Manel Perera
The bishops are asking the government and Tamil rebels to "take immediate steps to alleviate the suffering" of the civilians, and not to hide behind the "endless debates" over the real number of refugees. The requests include that of permitting religious representatives to enter Vanni with the UN and the Red Cross.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - The Catholic and Anglican bishops are appealing to the government and the Tamil rebels: the civilians of Vanni are "desperate," and their needs must be "addressed without delay." The Christian leaders stress the "immediate and absolutely urgent need to recognize that this is a very critical humanitarian crisis." Instead of continuing to foster "endless debates" over the real number of civilians trapped in the region, the bishops say, it is necessary to "take immediate steps to alleviate their suffering."

The appeal sent to the parties in conflict and to all of the political forces in the country was signed by the Catholic bishops Thomas Savundranayagam of Jaffna, Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, and Norbert Andradi of Anuradhapura. They have been joined by the Anglican bishops Kumara Illangasinghe of Kurunagala and Duleep de Chickera of Colombo.

The bishops acknowledge that the security zone on the coast is proving to be an important means for removing the refugees from the violence of the war, and thank the government for organizing the transportation of the sick and injured to Trincomalee. At the same time, they ask for "the avoidance of the use of heavy artillery and multi-barrel shelling in the areas where civilians reside."

The bishops ask the government, the Tamil Tigers, and all parties to have "the humility and the courage" to agree on sending food aid through the World Food Program for as long as necessary; to continue to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to transport the sick and injured to hospitals capable of caring for them; to negotiate a ceasefire that would permit the civilians to leave the conflict zone; and to allow the United Nations, the Red Cross, accredited humanitarian organizations, and representative of all the religions to access the region of Vanni in order to monitor the evacuation of refugees, and to contribute to aid operations.

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