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AsiaNews (01/03/06) – The fragile peace process of Sri Lanka was at the centre of a meeting yesterday between Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor and President Mahinda Rajapakse. The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster is in the country to visit tsunami-hit areas on the first anniversary of the catastrophe on 26 December 2004.

Soon after the election in November of a new head of state, attacks by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) increased. The resurgence of violence in recent weeks has claimed around 55 lives between soldiers, rebels and civilians. The Tigers have been fighting for self-determination in the north-east of the country for 30 years now. The conflict waged with government forces has left more than 60,000 dead.

Asked by the cardinal what type of backing he expects from the international community in the bloody conflict prevailing in the island, the president replied that it should be put pressure on the LTTE to immediately stop killings and to return to the negotiating table.

During the meeting, Rajapakse recalledthat he had invited the Tigers to negotiate the peace process but he was still waiting for a response. He reiterated his view that the discussions should be held in Sri Lanka and not in a European country as the LTTE are asking. The peace process has been stalled since 2003 and a cease-fire has been in force since 2002.

For his part, Cardinal O’Connor assured the president that the “British Community and myself are very much with you and the people of Sri Lanka to bring peace to this beautiful island.”

As regards the question of conversions and freedom of worship in the country, the president had announced – during a visit to Buddhist monks in Kandy shortly after his election – his intention of making the Religious Consultative Council effective to resolve controversies which may arise.

The head of state also showed his concern about the killing of the Catholic, Joseph Pararajasingham, a Member of Parliament (MP) of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA). He was killed in the Cathedral in Batticaloa on 24 December. Rajapakse condemned the killing, perpetrated on such a sacred day for Christians.