Friday, 6 June 2003

Colombo (Fides Service) – “We must not lose this opportune moment, this history-making opportunity to build peace! The Christian community strongly supports the hope for peace which is truly within reach”: Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo voiced this call through Fides Service.
Peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebel representatives are at a standstill, and the Archbishop, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference in Sri Lanka, has called on all parties involved “to make an effort to take step forward; to have the farsightedness to return to the negotiating table to discuss prospects of peace for the country. We hope for a speedy resuming of peace talks and an agreement”.
Archbishop Gomis explains that “many countries support the peace process and are working to bring the parties together. The Christian community is working among the ordinary people, intensifying programmes of education to peace among chidlren, in schools, and in the civil society. We are optimistic because we see that people want peace, they want national reconciliation and harmony”.
Peace talks stalled on 21 April. The Tamil accused the central government of trying to keep them on the margin of the process of re-building the country, excluding them from the re-launching of the economy, government in the north east mainly Tamilarea of Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE demand an ad interim administration for the north
whereas the government proposes the creation of a “Development Council” with limited powers.
Recently, after a month of stalemate, the government said it was ready to discuss the proposal of temporary administration. Among the unsolved problems, the return of Tamil refugees to their homes in the north and the disarming of the guerrillas: the rebels refuse unless the army also disarms. An important occasion for resuming talks may be a Conference of Donor Countries promoted by the European Union, which will be held in Tokyo in the coming days.
Archbishop Gomis says that in Sri Lanka “everyone realises that peace is the only path towards development and prosperity for the country: there is no turning back”. The Catholic Bishops have urged the faithful to “pray that talks will be resumed and will succeed, so that harmony among all communities may reign once again in Sri Lanka”. In the meantime the Church organises reconciliation programmes at grass roots level to educate to dialogue, giving special attention to youth and children. The Church in Sri Lanka, having members of both Sinhalese and Tamil ethnic origin, is in a good position to heal wounds and build new relations.
The civil war, which started in 1983, has caused the death of more than 65,000 people and made more than one million homeless. In February 2002 a cease-fire agreement was signed and talks started, wit the mediation of Norway. PA (Fides Service 6/6/2003 EM lines 38 Words: 478)

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