Friday, 7 November 2003

Colombo (Fides Service) – The present crisis in Sri Lanka risks becoming a mixture of politics and religion: reliable local analysts who prefer to remain unnamed tell Fides. They say that the peace process is influenced by the search for political agreement between Sri Lanka’s President Chandrika Kumaratunga and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
“Many major Buddhist communities, monasteries and leading personalities view the peace process with diffidence. Unwilling to make concessions to the Tamil (many are Hindus), they want to Sri Lanka’s identity to be Sinhalese and Buddhist and they represent an obstacle to peace. President Kumaratunga wants to step over this Buddhist position for her own political advantage to win back a majority in parliament. The danger is that the conflict risks assuming religious importance”.
While we hear the news that the state of emergency has been lifted, the local source confirms that the atmosphere of uncertainty remains, especially among the ordinary people: “On the one hand the peace process is popular because since the signing of the cease-fire more than a year ago life has returned to normal; but on the other the wounds inflicted by 17 years of war run deep and reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamils is difficult. In the meantime the Tamils are watching to see what happens next: their proposal is clear and it steers towards autonomy within a federal framework.»
The Catholic Church in Sri Lanka, our local source explains, has always acted as a bridge between north and south and it continues to do so today: “The fact that the local Church has members on both sides has enabled it to be a balancing element, fostering reconciliation between Sinhalese and Tamil communities.”
A missionary in Sri Lanka for years involved in working for peace and justice shares this opinion. He tells Fides: “The leaders’ political agenda could be an obstacle on the path of the peace process started over a year ago. The president wants to increase her political majority and she is playing the card of being a stronghold for the Sinhalese and Buddhist identity of the Island, refusing to grant Tamils too many concessions. Not everyone sees the peace process as a means for The Island’s economic and social development and better image on the international scene. Many are still locked in the logic of barricades between the two ethnic-religious groups. And in this picture the military lobby has a heavy impact, certainly not in favour of peace ”.
Sri Lanka’s constitution gives first place to Buddhism while guaranteeing the right of followers of other religions to practice their faith. It has a population of 20 million: 18 % Tamil Hindus, 9% Christian and 9% Muslim. (PA) (Fides Service 7/11/2003 Lines: 44 Words: 494)