02/04/2005, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Mgr Gomis urges politicians to work for human rights and religious freedom

In his Independence Day message, the Archbishop of Colombo stresses how peace and solidarity are necessary to rebuild the country after the tsunami.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – "Our leaders who secured independence, realized that freedom in a plural society meant peaceful co-existence among the several ethnic and religious groups and so they enshrined [it] in our Constitution," writes Mgr Oswald Gomis, Archbishop of Colombo, in his message for the 57th anniversary of Sri Lanka's independence (February 4, 1948).

By the same token, Archbishop Gomis urges the government and Tamil Tiger rebels to turn to the "politics of values" without discrimination and transcend the "barriers of ethnicity and religion and work for the common good". This is important to help the country overcome the effects of the recent tsunami.

Although more than half a century of independence have produced economic and social progress, it is necessary, Archbishop Gomis writes, to find some level of "unanimity about our goals, values or mission" so as to build a better democracy with one objective in mind: peace.

"We need to initiate peace talks" with the rebels, the prelate explains, but "as Christians [we] believe in a positive concept of peace based on justice and not a negative 'no war' situation."

In highlighting that the "respect for human rights and the rule of law" are fundamental principles of Sri Lanka's constitution, the Bishop objects to the "anti-conversion bill" whose intent is to ban religious conversion.

Last month, the country's Supreme Court determined that the bill presented by the Jathika Hela Urumaya Party was contrary to the principle that the state was "secular, pluralistic and democratic. If adopted, the bill would justify discrimination against religious minorities as well as the Buddhist majority.

Archbishop Gomis added that peace is threatened at three levels: "God, the other and nature" and the latter re was responsible for "the worst natural catastrophe in Sri Lanka's history", i.e. the December 26 tsunami.

Bishop Gomis thanked all those who provided relief assistance to the victims and urged the population and political leaders to "carry forward the newly found sense of solidarity".

"We must," he said, "use our creative energies and material resources to support one another and not add to the destruction. United we will prosper, divided we will be destroyed".

For over 20 years, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam separatist rebels (LTTE) have been battling government forces for a homeland in the north-eastern part of the country.

Sri Lanka's population is 69.3 per cent Buddhist, 15.5 per cent Hindu and 6.9 per cent Catholic. (MA)

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