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Asia

2003-05-06

ASIA/SRI LANKA - AFTER TWENTY YEARS OF CIVIL STRIFE “TIGERS” AND “LAMBS” EAT AT THE SAME TABLE: IS PEACE REALLY POSSIBLE?

Colombo (Fides Service) – “Sri Lanka deserves peace, prosperity, dignity and equal rights for all: and we must work and pray unceasingly for peace” Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo told Fides Service.
The Archbishop, who is also president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference was commenting a decision by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suspend their participation at peace talks: “Today there is strong pressure on the parties to resume negotiations which had made encouraging steps forward over the past year. The local Church is also playing its part. The word suspension would seem to indicate hopefully that the decision is temporary”. The LTTE says the government is restricting the role of the Tamil representatives in the rebuilding of the country, re-launching the economy, management of mainly Tamil areas in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. A major problem still to be solved is the resettling of Tamil displaced persons (who want to go back home to the north) and disarmament of the rebels (LTTE says disarmament cannot be one-sided).
Archbishop Gomis notes that despite a stalemate in negotiations, the economy is improving and likewise the political situation: “At the political level there are still some points for discussion but it is important that mutual trust is being rebuilt. However at the level of the people everyone is convinced that peace is the only path for the good and the development of our country”.
Recently the Catholic Bishops issued a message calling on government and LTTE to resume the peace process as soon as possible. The appeal, signed by Archbishop Gomis reads: “The stalemate in talks is a cause for concern among all the citizens of Sri Lanka who love peace. We hope that the parties involved will make every effort to resume dialogue”. The Bishops call on Catholic to “pray unceasingly for the resuming and success of peace talks, and for harmony to reign among the people”, recalling that “the Holy Father himself has stressed the urgent need to work for peace by building relations among people based on justice and solidarity”.
The message affirms that all Sri Lanka’s citizens must play an active role in supporting peace to remind “political leaders than we can be no turning back”.
In the meantime at grassroots level the Church is organising programmes to promote reconciliation and education to peace especially among young people and children. Father Francis Jayakody, head of the Social Development Commission of Colombo archdiocese, says: “we are working to strengthen unity and trust between north and south with the help of schools, parishes, and dioceses. The response from the people is good, as we saw during the recent Vesakh Hindu festival. It is easier to build brotherhood among children and young people and they are the future of the country. To them we entrust a new era of peace for Sri Lanka. The peace process is possible today because everyone wants it, after years of war. It is our task to build bridges and religion can be unifying element favouring dialogue and reciprocal respect”.
Father Francis says that the Catholic Church having members in both communities, Sinhalese and Tamil, has an important role to play to heal wounds and build new relations. I am optimistic because I see that a climate of serenity is returning.”
The civil war which began in 1983 left over 65,000 dead and one million homeless. In February 2002 a cease fire was signed and peace talks started thanks to the mediation by Norway. PA (Fides Service 6/5/2003 EM lines 44 Words: 501)

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