01/29/2009, 00.00
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Jaffna bishop, Christians on hunger strike for Vanni’s displaced civilians

by Melani Manel Perera
Ten days of bombardment kill more than 400, injure more than 1,400. Sri Lankan government minimises casualty figures. UN convoy successfully reaches Vavuniya Hospital, bringing hundreds of people to safety, including some 50 children.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Jaffna’s Catholic community led by the city’s bishop, Mgr Thomas Saundaranayagam, has gone on a hunger strike. Beginning at 9 am yesterday Catholics have been taking turns fasting in order to get the government to stop air raids and bombing the Vanni area. Unable to get supplies refugees caught in the conflict are going hungry.

In front of St Mary’s Cathedral hundreds of people began the protest against the “unbearable human tragedy” that is taking place amid the “silence of the international community” and the indifference of the government, which is minimising the real impact on civilians whilst blaming the Tamil Tigers for all the violence.

The group on hunger strike is made up of some 400 people. Alongside Jaffna’s bishop there is the former bishop of the Church of South India (which includes Anglicans, Methodists, Congregationists and Presbyterians) as well as Catholic priests and nuns, lay people from the diocese and members of other religions who are demonstrating jointly with representatives of civil society organisations.

Local sources said that the fighting of the last ten days between government forces and Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels has killed more than 400 people, 300 in just one day of bombing. More than 1,400 civilians from the area have been wounded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations have also reported hundreds of dead and thousands of wounded.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, permanent secretary at the Defence Ministry and brother of the current Sri Lankan president, acknowledged that the UN and ICRC were not lying, but insisted that they were “exaggerating” the figures.

After three days and a failed attempt, a UN convoy made it out of the city of Puthukkudiyiruppu in direction of the Vavuniya Hospital, beyond the frontline, where it was able to move out hundreds of wounded, including about 50 children.

In addition to the hunger strike Sri Lankan Catholic and Anglican bishops launched an appeal to the country. The Commission of Justice and Peace of the Catholic Diocese of Jaffna (CJPCD) issued a statement calling for a “stop to the human tragedy in Vanni”, sending it yesterday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, foreign ambassadors in Colombo and humanitarian organisations present on the island.

The CJPCD press release summarises a unanimous request for quick action to stop the tragedy in Vanni and for a political solution to the conflict that the parties involved can neither overturn nor cancel.

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See also
Army issues ultimatum to Tamil Tigers
Two Red Cross volunteers abducted in Colombo are killed
Bishops appeal for aid as thousands are displaced by war
Apostolic nuncio: priests will stay with people in conflict zone
Anglican bishop calls attention to civilians caught in crossfire between army and Tamil Tigers


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