04/30/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Sinhalese and Tamils will perish divided but flourish united, said Colombo archbishop

by Melani Manel Perera
For Mgr Oswald Gomis the fighting between the army and Tamil Tigers is reducing the country as it was at the “end of World War Two.” The Church is committed to helping refugees and reconciliation.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – “Divided we will perish, united we will flourish,” said Oswald Gomis, archbishop of Colombo, as he talked about the plight of refugees and the uncertain future of Sinhalese-Tamil relations. Despite a unilateral ceasefire by the Tamil Tigers and the government’s decision to stop using air strikes and heavy weapons in the combat zone, clashes continue and the number of victims keeps rising. In fact Great Britain and France, which had sent their respective foreign ministers, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, to secure a truce, have had to acknowledge their failure. Thus the war continues as do the efforts to deal with the humanitarian emergency caused by hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians (refugees at Maniki Farm pictured).

“It is my hope that the conflict will end shortly, that some day people will realise the folly of fighting,” Archbishop Gomis said. In the meantime through his incessant prayers he hopes that violence can be brought to an end and that everyone can “be reasonable and not let any more innocent people be killed.”

“We have called on both sides to spare the defenceless population,” said the archbishop, “but the LTTE has chosen to use civilians as human shields as a weapon of last resort. Now many places are destroyed and damaged like at the end of World War Two. Not even schools and hospitals have been spared. A lot of adults and so many children need medical treatment and assistance. Houses and people’s desire to live must be rebuilt.”

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has rejected the latest demand for a truce made by the United Nations with the backing of the European Union. But Monsignor Gomis has appealed to the government “to find a peaceful resolution” to the conflict,” a “political solution that is acceptable to both sides,” and ways to “help the displaced settle in areas which are their own.”

The local Church like Sri Lanka’s entire Catholic community has been involved for quite some time in collecting food, medicine and money to help the displaced in northern Sri Lanka. But for the archbishop the most important work is reconciliation. Laying the ground for peaceful coexistence between Sinhalese and Tamils, the two groups who call the island home and who have become enemies as a result of the conflict, is what is needed.

In the meantime acts of solidarity towards Sri Lanka’s Tamil communities continue in India as do pressures on Colombo. Religious groups and NGOs continue to organise demonstrations and launching appeals to Indian and Sri Lankan authorities to end the conflict.

In Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, the state with the highest concentration of ethnic Tamils in India, 20 women have gone on a hunger strike which they will not stop until fighting is not suspended.

The National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM), a network of organisations across India, has collected signatures demanding that the Sri Lankan government suspend hostilities immediately, start de-mining and rebuilding destroyed villages, as well as recognise the right of Sri Lanka’s Tamil population to self-determination.

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