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Summary of a report from Br. Michael de Wass



Conference of Major Religious Superiors meets with Tamilselvan

07/09/2006: Sri Lanka

During the month of August, the international press has constantly mentioned the increase in conflicts between the government troops and the Tamils in the north. The country’s Conference of Religious, whose President is Brother Michael de Wass, Provincial of the Marist Brothers, has promised dialogue through a delegation with the groups in conflict.
What follows is a synthesis of the information presented by Brother Michael on the occasion of the visit of the members of the Commission to the places of conflict.

A six member delegation undertook a visit to Mannar and a four member delegation to Jaffna on behalf of the Conference with three objectives in mind. First, it was a gesture of solidarity with our confreres, and the people living in the North. Second, we wanted to eye witness the situation in Jaffna and Mannar so that we would have a better understanding of the recent incidents reported through media. Third, to give a patient hearing to the cries of the people living there in order to speak on their behalf.

We were appalled to hear of the killings of four fishermen in Kaataspathri and see the damage done to Our Lady of Victory’s Church at Pesalai, destruction to property of civilians including boats, engines and huts on the beach closer to the Church and people who had come to the church for refuge following the clashes between the LTTE and the Navy. We were also able to listen to the victims of a Religious house in Mannar who had been assaulted by the Sri Lankan Police. We condemn both incidents and sadly note the lack of respect the perpetrators had for religious leaders and places of religious worship.

At a meeting with the clergy and Religious people expressed their serious concern over the deteriorating situation in Mannar. They were disturbed that Mannar had gone from bad to worse. They voiced their feelings on the over-domineering presence of the security forces in Mannar and wondered whose security they were concerned about. They condemned the two attacks on Pesalai Church and the Christian Brothers’ residence pointing out that even places of religious worship are in great danger today.

Talking to the high ranking officials in the security forces in Mannar we were pleased to meet some of them with a vision for peace and commitment to achieve it. This is to be commended. We witnessed the difficulties some of the security personnel have to go through daily. We share our sympathy with them and appreciate their courage in trying to safeguard people’s lives at great risk to their lives. We were uncertain though, whether they were well equipped with the necessary resources needed to confront the enemy and unexpected situations in Mannar. We also saw there was a need for better discipline among some of the officers. We were able to air our anxiety about it with the officials concerned. They were quite understanding and sympathetic.

Visiting Navandurai and Kakaitivu the delegation was able to listen to the peoples’ grievances. They included the fear of talking to both LTTE and Security forces and the consequences that would follow for committing a crime of talking to either party. The worst affected group is the women and young girls. The people were concerned about the restricted time for fishing limiting their right to earn their livelihood in freedom.

In conclusion, we must admit that we heard people in Mannar and Jaffna saying convincingly that they were victims of war. They were of the opinion that any one of them could be arrested and killed at any moment with no accountability to their kith and kin and fear the increasing presence of the security forces and wish that the excessive numbers be withdrawn. They feel that they have been branded as LTTE consequently prolonging the agony of life. They are pained at being treated as second class citizens in Sri Lanka. They regret such treatment because they are Tamils, for which they are not responsible.

It is our observation that many human rights are being violated in Jaffna, Mannar and Kebthigollawa… We appreciate the commitment of many Priests, Religious Brothers, Sisters and lay people ably guided by their Lordships, the Bishops of Mannar and Jaffna who are available round the clock to assist the suffering people.

We also notice the communication gap between the south and the north especially regarding exchange of news. We were displeased that (in the South) some incidents had not been reported at all and the ones reported were either partial or distorted. We appeal to all media personnel to promote our human right to know the truth. We appeal to the Government and the LTTE to respect human life and not to target innocent civilians as retaliation. We appeal them to resume negotiations for peace.

We are more than convinced that the time has come for the Sri Lankan Catholic Church to join hands with other Religious bodies and to stand for truth and justice in order to achieve peace before people lose the sense of peace. We reiterate that violence begets violence and that WAR is never a solution.

Bro. Michael De Waas
President (CMRS)

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