ASIA/SRI LANKA - “IN THIS CRITICAL SITUATION IN SRI LANKA THE LOCAL CHURCH TRIES TO MEDIATE TO PREVENT TENSION FROM BURSTING INTO VIOLENCE”: PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE TELLS FIDES SERVICE
Colombo (Fides Service ) – The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka is courageously making every effort to serve as a bridge between the sides in conflict with realism, Archbishop Gomis of Colombo who is also President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference tells Fides Service. “We are trying to build a bridge between the political groups who are negotiating. We are present at the talks and hope to succeed in mediating an agreement”, said Archbishop Gomis, commenting the critical moment in Sri Lanka caught in an institutional battle between president Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wikramasinghe. “The crisis is a cause of concern among the people but as yet there have been no scenes of violence. Moreover we have our Christian communities praying for a peaceful future”. “I cannot say that I am very optimistic”, the Archbishop admitted, “but we will do all we can to restore serenity”.
While the Prime Minister is on a visit to the United States the President, using the power conferred by the Constitution, sacked the ministers of Defence, Home and Communications taking over the respective duties herself. She also suspended Parliament for two weeks and declared a state of emergency explaining her actions with the need to guarantee the country security and stability and not to make wrong concessions to Tamil separatist rebels. Since 1985 Sri Lanka has been torn apart by civil war between the regular army and guerrilla troops of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The fighting official stopped with a cease fire agreement signed last year 2002 in February, followed by a series of negotiations for peace.
Some months ago the peace talks came to a halt, but recently the Tamil rebels presented a global plan for ending the conflict including the installation of an ad interim governing authority in the Tamil controlled north of Sri Lanka. According to the Tamil plan the interim authorities would have power to impose taxes, keep order, control external trade in a framework of a federal system. The LTTE asked Norway, which has acted as mediator, to organise meetings to discuss the plan accepted by government members and diplomats as a new promise for peace in Sri Lanka..
Ministers of Wikramasinghe’s government met Tamil leaders and said they were hopeful that the rebels’ proposal would be accepted. But President Kumaratunga affirmed it would mean granting too much to the guerrilla movement and she accused the Premier’s Party of wanting to change the country’s constitutional organisation.
Sri Lanka is feeling the political consequences of difficult co-existence between a President belonging to the Sri Lanka Freedom Party and a Prime Minister head of another Party, the United National Front, which has a slight majority in Parliament. In this situation of political uncertainty, observers fear the dissolving of parliament (within the powers of the President) and announcement of early elections, which would be the third vote in four years. (PA) (Fides Service 5/11/2003 lines 48 words 534)
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