09/18/2007, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Mgr Ranjith meets Tamil Tigers, urges them to join peace process

by Melani Manel Perera
The secretary of the Vatican’s Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament talks to AsiaNews about his meeting with the head of the LTTE’s political wing who is ready to negotiate but on the basis of the terms agreed to in the 2002 ceasefire.

Colombo (AisaNews) – In his visit to Sri Lanka’s Madhu area, Mgr Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacrament, was able to examine the difficult situation of the refugees and meet S.P. Thamilselvan, head of the political wing of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). He was accompanied by Mgr Rayappu Joseph, bishop of Mannar, and Fr Demian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka.

In an interview with AsiaNews, Mgr Ranjith said that in his September 13 meeting with Mr Thamilselvan, the LTTE leader  told him that “peace talks are possible but only on the basis of the terms agreed to in 2002.” Increasingly though, time for a peaceful solution was running out because of the government’s ongoing military offensive against the LLTE and its disregard for the international community.

“We had not come to meet S.P.Thamilselvan, but to see what we could do about the refugee problem,” the prelate said. “We met as part of this and discussed the current situation, including from the LTTE point of view.”

What is the Tamil Tigers’ current position?

“They stressed the importance of negotiating on the basis of the terms agreed in 2002 for the ceasefire and peace talks. They will go back to the negotiating table only on the basis of those terms.”

What is their opinion with regard to the country’s current situation? Especially concerning the offensive launched by government forces in the Toppigala and Silavathura areas?

“We did not talk about the offensive because we did not want to talk about the conflict, killings and such things. We wanted to reflect about the country’s current situation. Thamilselvanha said he was sorry that the government had opted for a military solution rather than peaceful measures. But we did not get the impression that the ongoing military attacks had weakened or frightened them.

“Thamilselvan said they did not want to follow someone else’s tune; that they would respond tit for tat. He warned that if the offensive continued the LTTE would go back to fighting and involve the entire country . . . .”

What was your reaction as a religious leader to this statement?

“I tried my best to convince him to stick with the peace process, to be tolerant and not go back to attacks again. But he said that their capacity to endure the government's continuous military offensives out of respect for the international community was wearing thin.

“He noted that the defence minister had once said that the LTTE had been forced into an area that was only 15 per cent [of the country] and that its leaders would be brought to Colombo in a cage. Bur he warned that the LTTE could retake lost ground in six months and that no one should take their silence and patience for a defeat.”

Much has been said about the critical statement you made about measures to wipe out terrorism when you met President Rajapaksa. Can you clarify the matter? 

“Yes. I never said I appreciated anything connected with the war. I did not go to meet the President to say such things. He has been a good friend of mine for a long time. Normally, I visit him when I come to Sri Lanka. And clearly the meeting was between friends, not an official meeting. I spoke about the bilateral relationship between Holy See and Sri Lanka; . . . about my work  here; . . .  especially, I made some suggestions with regard to the problems Sri Lankan migrants face and about the Embassy. And we discussed what services migrants should receive.

“We talked about the current situation in the country’s North and East and I expressed my concern over the need for peace. I told him that now was a good time to go for peace talks. He told me about some of the problems he was having. I never said anything positive about terrorism or war. I never talked about such things. I only opened my moth to speak about peace.”

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