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AsiaNews (12/27/05) – Catholics in Batticaloa, a town in one of the tsunami-affected areas of Sri Lanka, went to church on Christmas in great numbers despite fears following a brutal murder carried out earlier, during the Christmas Midnight Vigil.

Joseph Pararajasingham, an ethnic Tamil Member of Parliament and minority rights activist, was killed in the church. Six other people were wounded, including his 71-year-old wife who has sustained serious injuries.

The Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) blamed each for the death.

Mgr Kingsley Swampillai, bishop of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, was celebrating the Eucharistic function when the crime was committed.

“The church was full,” the prelate told AsiaNews by phone. “Joseph had just received the communion and had sat by his wife when we heard a loud noise followed by shots. He collapsed there and then, bleeding, and was taken to hospital.”

The gunmen escaped by shooting into the crowd. Despite the chaos, the religious function was completed.

According to local sources, Pararajasingham was a ‘good Catholic’, actively working for “minority rights”, and a member of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a party backed by the LTTE.

“On Christmas morning, no one showed any fear and the faithful came to mass,” Bishop Swampillai said. “Unfortunately, such incidents are regular events in our country.”

Against the “growing violence”, the prelate has launched an appeal to the authorities that they may “assume the necessary responsibility to prevent such acts and bring the culprits to justice”.

The motive behind the killing remains a mystery. The Tamil Tigers blame “chauvinistic [Sri Lankan] forces for removing this patriot who has done so much for the liberation of the Tamil nation”.

For its part, the government said Tamil rebels orchestrated the murder “in a desperate attempt to distract public opinion, create confusion and disorder, so as to avoid political talks”.

For international analysts, the escalating violence in Sri Lanka that followed the election of the new President Mahinda Rajapakse in November represents a serious threat to the 2002 ceasefire.

Tamil Tigers have been fighting since 1983 for an independent Tamil state in the country’s northern and eastern regions.