04/24/2009, 00.00
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Two priests injured while helping refugees in war zone

by Melani Manel Perera
Fr. Vasanthaseelan was hit by a shell in the church of Valaignarmadam. His leg has been amputated. Fr. Pathinathan is now at Mulli-vaaykkaal Hospital. The government is appealing to the international community for aid for the refugees. The foreign minister of Colombo: "We are about to confront an emergency humanitarian situation."

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Fr. Vasanthaseelan, the 35-year-old director of Caritas in Vanni and assistant for Caritas Jaffna-HUDEC, has had his leg amputated. He was with some other priests and sisters who had remained in the battle zone to help the war refugees. A shell fell inside the church of St. Anthony in Valaignarmadam while Fr. Vasanthaseelan was inside: both of his legs were seriously injured, and the left one had to be amputated.

The bombings in Valaignarmadam, which the Tamil Tigers attribute to the army of Colombo, also hit another priest, Fr. James Pathinathan, pastor of Mullaitivu. Fr. Justin, the vicar general of the diocese of Jaffna, reported the injury, adding that the priest has been transported to Mulli-vaaykkaal Hospital for treatment.

Fr. Vasanthaseelan and Fr. Pathinathan are two of the 17 priests who, together with 22 sisters, have remained in the war zone in order to assist the refugees. The wave of refugees leaving the no fire zone after the incursion of the army has aggravated the already dramatic humanitarian situation.

Although the government of Colombo has long prohibited international and nongovernmental organizations from providing direct assistance for the refugees, it has now issued an appeal to all humanitarian associations, asking them to support President Mahinda Rajapaksa's "efforts in sharing, caring, and resettling" the so-called Internally Displaced People, "totally misguided and disoriented by a terror regime for the past three decades."

"We are about to confront an emergency humanitarian situation," says foreign minister Rohitha Bogollagama, and "we need help to provide clean water, sanitation, medical care and, ultimately for resettlement." Communications minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa says that the government of Colombo believes that another 15,000-20,000 civilians are still trapped in the war zone.

The authorities continue to prohibit the media from entering the war zone. At the same time, they are asking them to help spread the appeal to the entire population of Sri Lanka, and in particular to the country's business community. The appeal is for the collection of articles and resources in order to provide assistance to the refugees. An extensive list of the articles needed has been drawn up: from powdered milk to clothing, from freeze dried food to hygiene products.

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See also
Catholic and Anglican bishops: civilians desperate in Vanni, aid needed immediately
Vanni, government asks for international aid. Tamils issue accusations against authorities
Situation worsens for civilians in Wanni
Rajapaksa triumphs in provincial elections: a vote against the Tamils?
Religious visit the refugees, prisoners in the camps


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