09/02/2004, 00.00
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Government funds to restore five Catholic churches

Colombo (AsiaNews/UCAN) – Sri Lanka's government has earmarked almost 5 million rupees (about US$ 50,000) for the restoration of five churches damaged during the country's 20-year civil war. Three parishes in Jaffna diocese and two in Mannar diocese will benefit from such funds.

Both areas are in the northern part of the country, the area most affected by the war that pitted the separatists of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil tigers) against the Sri Lankan armed forces. The rebels fought for a separate Tamil state in the north and east of the island nation as a way out of what they said was oppression by Sri Lanka's Sinhalese majority, which is concentrated in the south.  

The peace process was started in January 2002 by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, head of the United National Party, but has not made any progress since April 2003. The fighting which started in 1983 has killed an estimated 80,000 people and displaced another 800,000 leaving the country impoverished.

Sri Lanka's Catholic bishops formally wrote to Milroy Fernando, Minister of Christian Affairs and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, asking for financial assistance in restoring the damaged churches. According to them successive governments have not paid as much attention to the needs of Christian sites as they did to those of the Buddhist and Hindu communities which have already been restored with government funds. "We tried to get funds seven times," Mgr. Rayappu Joseph, Bishop of Mannar, said. "Only President Kumaratunga heeded our appeal."

Out of Sri Lanka's 19 million people, 1.4 million or 7.5 per cent are Catholics.

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