Tamil and army blame each in the murder of another priest
by Melani Manel Perera
Father Karunaratnam was killed yesterday right after midday. He was driving home in his well-known car after celebrating Mass. Sri Lanka’s army and Tamil Tiger rebels blame each other. Everyone remembers him as a tireless defender of human rights and as a real bridge between Tamils and Sinhalese.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The murder of Fr M. X. Karunaratnam, a Catholic priest, was widely condemned by all major groups in the country, including human rights groups. Father Karunaratnam was driving back to his parish of Vannivi’laangku’lam after celebrating Mass at Maangku’lam Church when he was killed around 12.30 pm in a road-side bombing in Vanni, along the Mallaavi-Vavunikkulam Road

Army spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakara said that in the area there is a strong Liberation Tamil Tigers of Elam (LTTE) presence.

For its part the LTTE rejected any suggestion that it was involved, blaming instead the death on special army units. It noted in its defence that the clergyman chaired the North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESoHR ) and fought for the rights of the Tamil population.

Some residents said that his vehicle was known to everyone in the area, implying that the attack was specifically targeted at him.

Some pro-LTTE websites have claimed that the NESoHR was connected to the Tamil Tigers.

Caritas Sri Lanka remembers him as “an example of courage and humanity and will be missed by all”.

This morning at 11 a requiem Mass was celebrated at the Perpetual Help Convent Chapel in Negombo, not far from the capital.

Sunila Abesekara, executive director of the Human Rights Documentation Centre in Colombo, told AsiaNews that “he was one of the few voices for human rights from Vanni which he always defended with extraordinary courage.”

For human rights activists Freddi Gamage and Jayanthi Dandenuya, they did not kill “only a priest, but human rights as such in the area.”

Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, who is involved in defending human rights in Colombo, remembers him as “a friendly person, always available; deeply committed to the poor,” whom he could address in both Tamil and Sinhala.

“With his death another bridge between Sinhala and Tamil communities is lost,” Father Iddamalgoda said. “War is not a solution; an agreed political solution is the only way out.”

Fr Damian Fernando, national director for Caritas Sri Lanka, said that “the conflicting parties must come to some agreement and reach a peaceful compromise which will bring a lasting solution for peace in Sri Lanka.”

Other clergymen have been killed in north-eastern Sri Lanka.

On 20 August 2006 Fr Jim Brown disappeared along with Vimalathas, father of five, at a time of heavy clashes between army and LTTE.

On 26 September 2007 Fr Nicholaspillai Packiyaranjith was killed by a bomb in Kalvi’laan, on Pooneryn Road, as he brought food and assistance to refugee camps and the orphanage in  a Vidathalvu.