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Sri Lanka Violence “Escalates” Warns World Council of Churches

BosNewsLife (01/28/06)

Sri Lanka Violence Escalates

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has expressed “its grave concern” over escalating violence in Sri Lanka , where at least two churches were attacked and peace talks broke down between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), BosNewsLife learned Saturday, January 28.

The appeal came as the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said 500 people, including 20 Buddhist monks and a Catholic priest, made threats against an Assembly of God (AOG) church in Bolaththa, Gampaha district, last Sunday, January 22.

Carrying placards and shouting threats, the mob reportedly demanded that the church cease services and promised to return the following weekend if another service is held.

On Monday, some militants returned and stoned the pastor’s house, which forms part of the church building, breaking windows, the Christian news agency Compass Direct reported. When the pastor lodged a complaint, police promised to carry out a regular safety check on the building but later asked him to come to the police station for “discussions” on Saturday, January 28, news reports said.

POLICE PROTECTION

“Police have said they will protect the church this Sunday (January 29), but as the police cannot guard the premises every Sunday, and a more permanent solution must be found,” Compass Direct quoted a NCEASL spokesman as saying.

The violence came after an incident involving another church with a built-in house in Alpitiya, Galle district where on Saturday (January 21) a group of 20 men brandishing rods and sticks reportedly walked into the home of an AOG pastor.

The pastor’s wife was at home with only her three young children, nursing the youngest in her bedroom, when the men walked in, Compass Direct said. The intruders allegedly issued an ultimatum, demanding that the pastor and his wife cease all Christian activities, including worship services, in the town.

The men apparently knocked over a table, chairs and other furniture and threatened to destroy all of the family’s belongings if these demands were not met. On Sunday, January 22, the service reportedly held with police protection.

MORE ATTACKS

A spokesman from NCEASL said churches were still being attacked or threatened almost weekly, although the pressure was not as “intense” as it was last year.

A Buddhist campaign to close churches and pass anti-conversion laws, however, is on hold due to rising tension between the government of newly-elected President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In an open letter to Rajapakse seen by BosNewsLife, WCC Secretary General Samuel Kobia said he fears the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement signed in February 2002, which was brokered by the Norwegian government and ended two decades of fighting.

“The cease-fire agreement and the peace talks between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam had provided joy and hope to the people, after over two decades of conflict in which over 64,000 people lost their lives,” he wrote.

INDEPENDENT HOMELAND

The Tigers still want an independent homeland in the north and prior to his election in November Rajapakse said he did not support complete autonomy for the rebels. Peace talks between both parties broke off in January 2004 and have not resumed.

Random killings, attacks and kidnappings have occurred almost daily since the elections in November, resulting in over 130 deaths, according to experts.

The Tamil people are among those suffering as well with increasing reports of them being harassed, kidnapped and killed, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported.

In one of the serious incidents, a Roman Catholic Tamil member of parliament, Joseph Pararajasingham, was shot dead while attending midnight mass at a church in Batticaloa on Christmas Day.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers on Saturday, January 28, accused the government of harassing civilians. The LTTE said government troops conducted a cordon and search operation in the northern peninsula of Jaffna yesterday despite both sides agreeing to de-escalate tensions, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.

The charge was made as the chief negotiator of Tamil Tiger rebels Anton Balasingham, told Norway’s special peace envoy Erik Solheim this week that they were ready to end the deadlock in the peace process by agreeing to meet with Colombo representatives in Geneva next month