07/28/2010, 00.00
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Sri Lanka’s ‘Black July’ not over yet, Christian leaders say

by Melani Manel Perera
In July 1983, up to 3,000 Tamil civilians died in Sinhalese-initiated riots that set off the country’s civil war. Today, there are 81,000 widows in Sri Lanka and the military occupies two thirds of the country, CSM member says. Christians are in favour of a multi-ethnic state.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Sri Lanka’s ‘Black July’ is not over yet and the nation is not yet reconciled, the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM) said on Monday at a meeting in Colombo marking the 27th anniversary of the massacre of up to 3,000 Tamil civilians that set off the civil war. Catholic and Protestant clergy and lay people took part in the event.

In July 1983, riots broke out across the country after Tamil Tiger rebels (from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelan or LTTE) killed 13 Sri Lankan soldiers, setting off a civil war that ended only in May 2009 with the victory of government forces. The violence that followed the soldiers’ death saw Sinhalese attack Tamil, leaving up to 3,000 Tamil dead. Some 18,000 Tamil homes and 5,000 shops were also destroyed—more than 100,000 Tamils fled to India.

Preman Fernando, a member of the CSM, opened the ceremony by talking about the country’s current situation, now that civil war is over.

“Normally, a post war period is peaceful, without violence, but is this the reality in our country today? Maybe we do not hear shots fired, but people are still dying from the consequences of the war,” he said.

“We must tell society that 81,000 widows still live in this land,” he added, “that the military is still patrolling two thirds of the country, that many people are still displaced after they lost their homes or were forced to give their land over to the government. We are still living in the so-called ‘Black July’.”

“We, as Christians, cannot marginalise people on the basis of religion, ethnicity or race,” said Mahinda Namal, another CSM member. “We have the right to build a national state that is for everyone.”

Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, a Catholic priest, had harsh words for the government. “In 1983, the Sinhalese were opposed to all religious practices; this is still true today. We have a weak and selfish government that is unwilling to engage the Tamil community in a meaningful and fruitful discussion.”

At the end of the commemoration, CSM Coordinator Fr Rohan de Silva told AsiaNews, “We are close to the victims. Until the rights of everyone and every community are recognised, we shall never achieve peace. In order to attain it, we must have dialogue at all levels. This is the CSM’s philosophy.”

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