Protect democratic rights, bishop tells Sri Lankan president

Published June 10, 2009

Chennai, IndiaThe Anglican bishop of Colombo has warned against harassment of civil rights activists and those seeking to serve the displaced in Sri Lanka following the government’s victory over ethnic Tamil rebels.”We must become a nation in which every woman, man and child, regardless of religion or ethnicity is made to feel equal, free and proud to call themselves Sri Lankan,” Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo said in a press statement.Chickera’s June 5 statement followed the kidnapping and assault of Poddala Jayantha, the secretary of the Working Journalists Association, who has been a critic of the government’s final military offensive against Tamil rebels.In mid-May, the government declared victory against the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which had waged a 26-year autonomy campaign for ethnic Tamil minority areas in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island. An unidentified group kidnapped Jayantha at the beginning of June. He was assaulted, receiving injuries to his head, chest and a leg, before the assailants threw him out of the vehicle he was in. Deploring the attack on the journalists’ leader, Bishop Chickera urged Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, “to ensure that democratic rights are safeguarded so that our nation may strive towards a new era of freedom and development”.Bishop Chickera’s statement came after thousands of people, including hundreds of Buddhist priests, thronged Colombo’s streets to salute Rajapaksa for ending what was called the “terror” practised by Tamil rebels, who were one of the first know groups to use suicide bombers.Amid the euphoria, some groups such as the National Peace Council, in which some of the bigger churches are members, have expressed concern about harassment of human rights activists.”What is needed today is reconciliation of the communities and the binding up of the wounds of war, and not the persecution of those who sincerely believe in human rights and fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution,” the peace council stated in its reaction to Jayanta’s kidnapping.A graphic account has emerged from a Roman Catholic nun, Sister M. Nirmala, who served at a refugee camp in Vanni, where nearly 300 000 Tamil civilians from LTTE-held areas are being held for screening by security forces in crowded camps. It, “looks like a Nazi camp we watch in films and we read about in books,” said the Catholic nun.The Sri Lankan government has rejected international demands for access by aid workers to the refugees.


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