Sri Lanka’s escalating war takes toll on civilians

Published October 15, 2008

A photo taken a year ago of Mailampaveli Camp in Batticaloa where the National Council of Churches in Sri Lanka and its partners are supporting some 80 families that have been displaced by civil war in the country.

Bangalore, India
Churches in Sri Lanka say they are “deeply perturbed by the humanitarian crisis in the country” that coincides with an all-out offensive by government forces to capture remaining areas under the control of ethnic Tamil rebels.

“The present situation is totally inimical to the fostering of peace with justice and ensuring the well being of all the people,” said the National Christian Council (NCC) of Sri Lanka in a statement on Oct.13.

The statement was signed by officials of the eight Protestant churches that constitute the NCC as well as five ecumenical institutions that are associate members in the church council.

“It would be an utterly disastrous blood bath for the whole country with totally irrevocable consequences,” if the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam plan to carve out a Tamil homeland, and the government’s push to establish the total subjugation of the rebels came to fruition. “The social dynamics in Sri Lanka and its geopolitical realities will never allow the fulfillment of either of these goals,” cautioned the church officials.

Ethnic Tamils, mostly concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the Indian Ocean island, account for about 18 percent of Sri Lanka’s 19 million people, while Sinhala-speaking people, many of whom are Buddhists, make up 70 percent of the population.

The main hospitals are crowded with war wounded,” the NCC said, and it quoted Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake as saying earlier in October that more than 200 soldiers were killed and 997 others were injured in the war in the north during September.

The government has also claimed to have killed more than 10,000 LTTE insurgents this year alone in its bid to crush the Tamil rebels. Since 1983, the rebels have carried out a bloody campaign for autonomy for ethnic majority Tamil areas in the north and east, and it has so far claimed more than 80,000 lives.

The NCC has urged the government “not to create obstacles” in the effort to care for displaced Tamil civilians.

International aid workers have been asked to leave the area where the battle is raging.

Church officials and activists said they were aghast at a statement attributed to Sri Lankan army chief Sarath Fonseka that the minority Tamils “should not make undue demands,” and should be subservient to the majority Sinahala people.

“The inability or the unwillingness of the political leadership of the government to contradict General Fonseka is revealing,” Santha Fernando, executive secretary of the NCC’s commission for justice and peace, told Ecumenical News International.

Mr. Fernando’s  commission had said of the general’s statement, “It indicates that the dominant beliefs of the present government may be in conformity with those of Sinhalese nationalism.”


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