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Sri Lanka Bishop pleads for Tamils to be treated with dignity: CEN 5.22.09 p 7. May 26, 2009

Posted by geoconger in Arms Control/Defense/Peace Issues, Church of Ceylon, Church of England Newspaper.
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The Bishop of Colombo has called upon his government not to treat all Tamils as potential terrorists, but to affirm their “rights and dignity” as citizens of Sri Lanka.

In a statement published in Sri Lanka’s national newspapers, Bishop Duleep de Chickera has also urged the government to take swift action to address the address the humanitarian crisis in Northern and Eastern Ceylon left in the wake of the 26 year long civil war between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), or Tamil Tigers.

On May 18 the BBC reported the Sri Lankan army had killed the leader of the Tamil Tigers, Velupillai Prabhakaran. The government reported that over 200 Tamils, including Prabhakaran and seven other senior Tamil Tiger leaders, were killed in a “final battle” between rebels and government troops. The war was now over, the government’s information ministry said as the army had “liberated the entire country by completely liberating the north from the terrorists.”

On May 7, Bishop de Chickera urged the government to take the necessary steps to ensure that its military victory would be followed by a just and lasting peace. The hundreds of thousands of refugees “crushed and deprived for years” by war, should be treated humanely, he said.

“We require a visible shift from sympathy” for Tamil refugees from their status as the human flotsam of war towards their acceptance as fellow citizens, he said, which affirms “their rights and dignity as Sri Lankans.”

“If a lasting solution to our larger and more tragic conflict is ever to be reached we need to engage in two more crucial shifts,” Bishop de Chickera argued. The first is “to overcome the tendency to see ghosts of the LTTE in every Tamil. If not, an entire community will be held under surveillance for the rest of their lives, some of whom will inevitably be driven into the arms of the next Tamil militant resurgence.”

The second is for a “just and speedy political response to the grievances of the Tamil people,” the bishop said.

Mired in ethnic conflict since independence from Britain in 1948, the civil war began in 1983 and has led to the deaths of an estimated 70,000 civilians. According to a 2001 government survey, Sri Lanka’s main ethnic groups are the Sinhalese (82 percent), Tamil (9.4 percent), and Sri Lanka Moor (7.9 percent). In the wake of independence, the Sinhalese majority began to disenfranchise Tamils, who they charged had been favored by the British in the colonial era. In 1972 the country’s name was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, Sinhala made the official language and Buddhism declared the nation’s primary religion.

Formed in 1976, the LTTE under the leadership of the charismatic Velupillai Prabhakaran began a campaign for a Tamil homeland in northern and eastern Sri Lanka, where the majority of Tamils reside. In August 2005, the assassination of Sri Lanka’s foreign minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, intensified the conflict, and in 2008 a hard-line anti-LTTE government ended a Norwegian brokered ceasefire and began the military campaign that led to victory this week.

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