12/02/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Sri Lankan fisher people call on Card Ranjith to mediate with the government

by Melani Manel Perera
The government wants to build a tourist resort on Negombo Lagoon that will include a seaplane port. The construction would destroy the livelihoods of thousands of people. Two activists are arrested and then released. The local Church backs the fisher people in their demands.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Christian fishermen at Negombo Lagoon have called on newly appointed Card Malcolm Ranjith, archbishop of Colombo, to mediate the dispute that has put them on a collision course with the government. They want to save the area they inhabit from a tourist project that would devastate the lives of thousands of people. A special meeting was held last night at the auditorium of the Centre for Social and Religious.

The Alliance for the Protection of Negombo Lagoon outlined the latest developments in the case and the possible consequences of the ‘Seaplane’ project, which would see the construction of tourist resort with a seaplane port.

One of the members of the Alliance, Herman Kumara, said that the project would destroy the lagoon. “At the moment, government has taken a step back due to pressure from the people; however, this is temporary. We realised this when police arrest of two leaders of the campaign, Aruna Roshantha and Marcus Fernando, after they handed out leaflets last Saturday at Negombo Town”.

Even though the Seaplane project will negatively affect the lives of more than 15,000, the government appears bent on realising it. Locals are largely involved in fishing. If the new scheme goes ahead, their livelihood will be compromised by the tourist resort.

“We are living in a militarised country. We do not know what will happen to the others within few days.” Kumara said about the Negombo area.

Released on bail after his arrest, Aruna Roshantha said at a press briefing that the government is trying to stop the protest and win over the opposition.

“The authorities are very nice to us these days. They ask whether we need any financial assistance, fishing gear or assistance,” he said, “but we are not going to stop.”

Milina Kumari, an activist with a local fisher organisation, “Sri Vimukthi”, said that they found out about the project through the Church.

“Our priests helped us a lot. They are with us. But we need more attention and real mediation by the Church leadership,” she said. “I thanked the archbishop, Card Malcolm Ranjith, for asking the government to negotiate with the fishermen,” she added. “We humbly thank Archbishop [for what he has done], “but we also strongly urge him not to wash his hands by just appealing to the relevant authority in the government or to the Sri Lanka Navy to discuss this issue with us. We urge Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to mediate to this trouble situation because 99 per cent of all the fisher people are Catholic”.

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