Wednesday, 30 July 2003

Colombo (Fides Service) – Marco Polo described it as the most beautiful island in the world, but in the last twenty years Sri Lanka, known as Ceylon under British colonial rule, has known nothing but civil war, cruel targeted killings and indiscriminate fighting, the suffering of the homeless and the grieving of the families of more than 65,000 dead. The Island is a ramification of the Indian sub-continent into the Ocean, highly valued for its plantations of tea and its tourism of absolute value for natural beauty and cultural testimony of Thervada Buddhism. Buddhism was declared the state religion in 1972 with the coming to power of the National Unity Party promoter of nationalist policy which imposed the Sinhalese language and Buddhist religion causing discrimination against the Tamil ethnic minority living mainly in northern Sri Lanka.
After years of malcontent, civil war between the two ethnic groups (Sinhalese in power and Tamil minority) exploded in all its violence in 1983. It dragged on until a cease fire was signed in February 2002 inaugurating a season of rapprochement between government and the Tamil movement which demands autonomy for the North. The cease fire was followed by negotiations for peace with the mediation of Norway, but the talks stalled over a request by the Tamil for ad interim administration of the northern region.
In recent months however the cease fire has been violated by isolated groups of rebels promoting fundamentalism which rejects dialogue. These groups commit acts of uncontrolled piracy on Sinhalese ships and ambush of army troops.
In this situation of stall and tension Fides Service spoke with Bishop Kingsley Swampillai of Trincomalee-Batticaloa a diocese in the north affected for the past twenty years by violent fighting between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: “Despite the stall in negotiations between government and rebels, hopes for peace are alive more than ever. We place our hope first of all in God, then in the goodwill of the parties who say they are ready to resume dialogue. Talks should start again within weeks. In the diocese of Trincomalee-Batticaloa there is confidence and hope and parents are assuring their children that lasting peace is near.”
According to Bishop Kingsley Swampillai who met recently with rebel leaders, the Tamil want only to live in peace in their lands, they have had enough of war and they want to find away out of the tunnel of violence where they have been for twenty years, despite the fact that uncontrolled groups of guerrillas have broken the cease fire in the north. Tamil leader S. P. Thamilselvan has voiced willingness to resume dialogue with the Sri Lankan government with the slogan “Keep the doors open for peace”. Although no date has been set for the resuming of the talks the signal of thaw was welcomed by the Colombo authorities who announced “dialogue could resume within 2 weeks”.
“These are encouraging signs. In Sri Lanka everyone realises there is no turning back” a local Church sources tells Fides Service. The Catholic Bishops of the Island are urging Catholics “to pray unceasingly for the resuming of negotiations and for their success so that there may be harmony among all the communities in the country”. In fact since Sri Lanka’s Catholics belong to both ethnic groups, Sinhalese and Tamil, the Church is in an admirable position to help heal old wounds and build new relations.
Peace talks stalled on 21 April this year. The Tamil accuse the government of excluding them from the process of reconstruction, re-launching the economy and administration in the mainly Tamil areas of north and eastern Sri Lanka. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam LTTE want an interim administration for the north, whereas the government proposes the creation of a Council for Development with limited powers. PA (Fides Service 30/7/2003 EM lines 52 Words: 736)