09/22/2008, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Catholics of Jaffna demonstrate for peace in northern part of country

by Melani Manel Perera
Hundreds march and pray for an end to the violence. Bishop of Mannar: the situation is increasingly difficult for 150,000 refugees, without shelter, food, medicine. Children are without milk and in danger of serious illness. "The very survival" of the refugees is in danger.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of Catholics participated yesterday in the march for peace in Jaffna, in northeast Sri Lanka, calling for an immediate end to the war. During the march, organized by the justice and peace commission of the diocese of Jaffna for the occasion of the world day of peace proclaimed by the United Nations, the faithful recited the rosary and walked to the shrine of St Anthony in Manipay for the Eucharistic celebration, praying for an end to the killings, disappearances, and fighting.

Fr Jeyaseharam, the head of the commission, recalled that prayer and the rosary express unity with the suffering, and called upon the faithful to meet to recite the rosary "for the liberation of the population" from these evils.

There are about 150,000 refugees in the area, without shelter, food, or assistance of any kind, as recalled by Joseph Rayappu, bishop of Mannar. The situation is especially serious for children, "apart from a shortage of milk food, mosquito nets and medicines, there is also the risk of many children being exposed to the spread of diseases like malaria, diarrhea and lung infections". In the recent escalation of violence between the army and the Tamil Tiger rebels, indiscriminate artillery fire - Bishop Rayappu continued - is causing many innocent victims, like two children, aged two months and two years, on August 30. "In such a scenario , it is not at all feasible to expect that people will come to the government controlled area". "They are fear-ridden due to artillery, aerial and gunboat attacks and are constantly  on the move" to get away from the fighting.

The situation, he says, has worsened significantly because of the recent departure from the area, for reasons of security and at the repeated insistence of the government, of humanitarian organizations that provide the refugees with flour, sugar, vegetables. Food prices are extremely high at the shops in the area, and the refugees, who are fishermen and farmers, have no money and are unable to find work. "For this reason, the faithful have raised more than 2 million rupees, and we gave each family 1,000 rupees at first, but we had to reduce this to 500 because of the heavy demand". "There are around 5,000 families from the Mannar diocese alone who are yet to receive this financial assistance". "It is necessary to guarantee the very survival of the refugees in these areas".

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