08/23/2006, 00.00
Send to a friend

Catholic priest disappears in Sri Lanka

by Danielle Vella

The Church of Jaffna has launched an urgent appeal: the government must intervene to discover where Fr Jim Brown is. There has been no news of the young priest since 20 August; he was last seen at a checkpoint as he was going to his new parish in Allaipiddy.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – The Church in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka has appealed for immediate action to discover what happened to a Catholic priest who disappeared on 20 August. The priests and people of Jaffna are shocked and seriously concerned about the fate of 34-year-old Fr Jim Brown, who was last seen by a fellow priest at the Allaipiddy military checkpoint. Fr Jim was going to Allaipiddy, his new parish, accompanied by Mr Vimalathas, a father of five. They never returned and efforts to track them down have so far proved useless.

Fr Jim went missing barely a week after more than 20 people were killed in Allaipiddy in crossfire between the security forces and Tamil Tiger troops. The violence was part of fierce fighting across Jaffna peninsula that has now started to die down.

The church-run Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Jaffna yesterday issued an appeal for swift action: "It is our cry to the international community to pressurize the government to attend to this burning issue immediately. Act in time and save these innocent victims."

Unexplained disappearances are bound to cause concern in Sri Lanka, which has one of the highest rates in the world of unsolved cases of people who have gone missing. So far, requests for information to the authorities have yielded nothing: "The Bishop of Jaffna and the Human Rights Commission have contacted the Navy Commanders of the North. To our shock, they washed their hands, saying they do not know anything about the incident."

Sedec, the national Caritas, has informed the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, about the disappearance of the two men and awaits a reply.

Ordained in 2003, Fr Jim was appointed parish priest of Allaipiddy a few weeks ago. His parish church of St Philip Neri came under fire when the Navy and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) clashed at Allaipiddy on 12 August. Many civilians were killed as they sought shelter in the church. After this, Fr Jim took his parishioners – about 800 – to shelter in St Mary's Church in neighbouring Kayts, literally begging the Navy troops on his knees to be allowed to go there.

Shortly afterwards, he was scolded by the Navy commanding officer of Allaipiddy during a meeting. "The officer shouted at Fr Jim, saying he had helped the LTTE to dig bunkers," said the director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation. "Jim told me they had dug bunkers to take shelter from the shelling of the church premises." In fact, Fr Jim survived by jumping into a trench.

On 20 August, at around half past noon, Fr Jim left Kayts on his motorbike with Vimalathas to say Mass in Mandaithevu, where displaced people had sought shelter in a Hindu temple. But navy troops at Mandaithevu did not allow him to say Mass so he left. He met another priest on the road, Fr Peter Thurairatnam, the last man to see him. The priests rode abreast to the Allaipiddy checkpoint and parted ways there. When they did not return to Jaffna or Kayts, a priest went to the checkpoint to ask about them and was reportedly told the two men had left Allaipiddy.

Send to a friend
Printable version
See also
Jaffna Catholics tell government: tell us "truth" about missing priest
Wave of refuges fleeing combat zone continues
Government sets up Tamil committee, a trick for the opposition
Refugees flee Tamil Tigers, but are corralled into government centers
Tamil refugees going home to an open prison


Subscribe to Asia News updates or change your preferences

Subscribe now
“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”