10/27/2008, 00.00
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Sri Lanka unaware of the fate of the population in war-torn areas

by Melani Manel Perera
Much of the country does not know the real conditions in which northerners live. The Christian Solidarity Movement is trying to raise funds and awareness despite politicians’ intimidation. Ordinary people pay closer attention to the movement’s campaigns. Its coordinator, Father Iddamalgoda, complains about the “lack of democracy”.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – Public opinion in Sri Lanka is unaware of the level of poverty gripping the population in the northern part of the island. According to Fr Sarath Iddamalgoda, coordinator of the Christian Solidarity Movement (CSM), if people only knew how bad the situation in the Northern District is, they would realise that war was not a solution and that a peaceful way out was imperative.

Residents in the war-torn region have been reduced to a pitiful state as a result of the civil war pitting government forces against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). And the arrival of the monsoon season has made matters even worse.

A travel ban imposed by the authorities on journalists has meant that no one outside the affected region knows how serious things are.

Speaking to AsiaNews Father Iddamalgoda spoke about that humanitarian work carried out on behalf of the Tamil population in the Vanni area, which is under LTTE control.

“First of all, we have telling southerners about the situation to raise their awareness about the suffering locals are enduring. Secondly, we are getting them to donate,” money said the clergyman.

Thanks to the commitment of many lay people and men and women religious (see photo of street fundraising in Negombo), the CSM has raised 80,000 rupees (about US$ 800) in the cities of the Western District.

“We got much more in Colombo and Moratuwa, and we hope to hand them over to the bishop of Mannar in the first week of November.”

The CSM was created this year following the murder of Fr Mariampillai Xavier Karunaratnam, on 20 April, right on the road that from Mallaavi-Vavunikkulam leads to Vanni.

Father Iddamalgoda said that the murder of Father Kili, as Fr Mariampillai was popularly know, “made us realise that individual groups offer a great service and are necessary, but alone they cannot achieve much at a national level.”

Father Kili was well known in the region and was well respected. He chaired the North-East Secretariat on Human Rights (NESOHR), fighting for the rights of the Tamil population as well as reconciliation with the Sinhala community.

Both Catholics and Anglicans are involved in the CSM.

“The nation’s situation needs networking between various Christian groups from various Churches to raise a prophetic voice at a time when people are still dying because of the war and the failure of the peace talks,” said Father Iddamalgoda.

Since its inception the CSM has organised various meetings and held prayers across the country to raise awareness about the situation in the north of the country.

For example, during a visit to the Church of St Sebastian, in Kandana in early October, the “parish priest invited us to speak to the faithful about the conditions of the refugees in Vanni,” he said. “We told them about their responsibility as Christians in times such as these. And we handed out flyers to inform them about the situation. The response we got was very positive.”

The CSM coordinator also mentioned several individuals who empathised with what he said; solidarity was especially strong among the poorest.

“I saw a woman coming to the market give 200 rupees. Two really poor people generously gave 10 and 20 rupees.”

The CSM is hoping that it can get people to realise that the “war is only destroying the lives of hundreds of people who could be saved by a political solution” but “sadly our country’s political leaders have not understood this for the past 60 years.”

This explains why the movement has been ostracised by some authorities.

“When we went to Negombo Sarath Gunarathna (a local Mp and deputy minister of Aviation) showed his hostility. He phoned me to protest against what we were doing. He accused us of misleading ordinary people, warned us against pursuing our initiative, which was damaging the government and its attempts to build good relations with the Tamil population. He asked why we did not mention the LTTE, insisting that the government was sending food to the region. He was especially angry when I told him that communication with Vanni was impossible, and he indirectly threatened me by saying that he would tell Basil Rajapaksha, a brother and an old adviser to the president, about our activities.”

It is a sign “of the lack of democracy in our country when we need the permission of politicians to do what our religion asks us to do,” the Father said.

Gunarathna later publicly reiterated his charges against the CSM and its director with his statement eventually broadcast by state TV.

“What this whole affair means is that we lack freedom of expression. They are trying to tell us that the only truth is the one the government announces through the media and that anything can happen if one does not heed the official ideology.” But “we shall not surrender,” said the clergyman.

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See also
Catholics and Anglicans remember Father Killi, martyr of war
Tamil and army blame each in the murder of another priest
Dead or alive, Tamil Tiger leader’s fate sealed
Government sets up Tamil committee, a trick for the opposition
Tamil refugees going home to an open prison


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