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Sri Lanka Nuncio in Appeal for Missing Priest and Helper

ICC Note:

Despite repeated queries, protests, and prayer services, no one has come forward to explain the disappearance of a Catholic priest and his helper. Please continue to pray that he will be found alive and well.

by Danielle Vella

AsiaNews ( 08/29/06) – The Apostolic Nuncio of Sri Lanka, Mgr Mario Zenari, has urged those responsible for the disappearance of Fr Jim Brown to realise their error of their ways and to take steps accordingly.

Despite repeated Church appeals to the authorities to discover what happened to Fr Jim Brown, there is absolutely no news about the priest from Jaffna , who was last seen on 20 August together with his travelling companion, Vimalathas, at a military checkpoint outside Allaipiddy, his parish.

Mgr Zenari told AsiaNews: “We feel sad and discouraged about the disappearance of Fr Nihal Jim Brown. At the same time we witness how he is more than ever present in the hearts of his peace-loving people.” He added: “We appeal to the sentiments of humanity of those responsible for his disappearance, asking them to recognize their fault and to act consequently.”

But the anxious enquiries of the Jaffna Bishop, Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, have fallen on deaf ears so far. He told AsiaNews that yesterday he approached the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, for a second time. “I requested the President to reply to our letter about the disappearance of Fr Nihal Jim Brown and his helper, but we have not heard back yet.”

As the days pass, Catholics in Jaffna and the neighbouring diocese of Mannar – where Fr Jim worked for two years – are becoming more and more uneasy. Last week, they held prayer services and silent protests, presented appeals to local officials to be passed onto Rajapakse, and approached the International Red Cross and the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (SLMM). But hope is waning. In a protest held in Mannar on 25 August, attended by around 4,000 Catholics, people were in tears as they held placards reading “Where is Fr Jim Brown?”

Their cry has been picked up by the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). Kim Soo A, urgent appeals coordinator, told AsiaNews that the AHRC was “deeply concerned” about the disappearance of Fr Jim Brown and Vimalathas. “We strongly urge all parties, especially the government of Sri Lanka , to take serious action to locate these persons and to ensure they return to their homes and church safely,” Kim said. “We also request that a full investigation and judicial inquiry be conducted with a view to holding perpetrators who are responsible for this inhuman act.” Kim noted that Fr Jim’s was far from the only such case: “AHRC notes with great concern the escalating number of enforced or involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka .”

There is no doubt that the safety of people living in Sri Lanka’s war zones in the north and east is increasingly threatened as conflict intensifies between the security forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). “Due to the ruthless nature of human rights violations taking place in the north east, even civic leaders are afraid to speak up on behalf of the people. Even those working for international organizations and Christian priests are not spared,” Jehan Perera of the Colombo-based National Peace Council told AsiaNews. In fact, Fr Jim disappeared a few days after his parish church in Allaipiddy was destroyed in crossfire that killed 20 people sheltered there. After this incident, he reportedly incurred the Navy’s wrath by insisting on taking the rest of the villagers to the parish church of neighbouring Kayts for safety.