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Villagers Shocked By Bombing of Their Church

ICC Note: It appears that the Sri Lanka Army unnecessarily bombed a village church in rebel-controlled territory, injuring one and causing widespread fear.

7/31/07 Sri Lanka (UCAN) — Catholic Tamil farmers have expressed dismay that their village church has been bombed, according to the secretary at the Jaffna bishop’s house.

Father S. Ainsley Roshan said villagers of Alampil rushed from their farmland to St. Anthony’s Church at midday July 27 following the sound of aircraft and explosions.

Alampil is just south of the coastal city of Mullaitivu , 275 kilometers northeast of Colombo . Over 1,500 Catholic and Hindu farmers live in and round the village. Recently, efforts were being made to renovate the church.

“Bombs fell on the churchyard and the portico of the church, and the roof of the church has been badly damaged,” Father Roshan told UCA News by telephone from the bishop’s office in Jaffna .

The Jaffna peninsula, which forms the northern tip of Sri Lanka , is effectively cut off from the mainland due to the fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels. Mullaitivu is on the mainland, near the base of the peninsula.

“One schoolgirl, Arul Ranjana, aged 12, taking exams in a Catholic school near the church, was injured in this incident and rushed to hospital,” Father Roshan said. He added that Father S. Nesanayagam, the Alampil parish priest, who resides behind the church, “narrowly escaped injury.”

Father Roshan, secretary to Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna , said he was unable to obtain more details because the telephone lines were not working properly.

The century-old St. Anthony’s Church is in an area controlled by Tamil rebels that has been subject to aerial attacks by the Sri Lankan Air Force. Communication to and from the region has been difficult for about four years.

According to Tamil media, aircraft bombed the locale of the church and school twice, at noon and 2 p.m., sending schoolchildren and villagers scattering.

Villagers have expressed dismay. “We were renovating the church,” said Gnanewaran Michealpillai, 58, a parishioner and former altar boy. He spoke with UCA News in Colombo , where he had come for medical treatment.

While the Jaffna peninsula is under government control, much the mainland part of the province is under rebel control. The government has blocked the road between the two areas.

Tamil rebels launched an armed struggle in 1983 for a separate Tamil state in the north and east of the island, where the Tamil minority is concentrated. Ethnic Sinhalese, about 74 percent of the population, predominate elsewhere.

According to government and international sources, up to 65,000 people were killed and a million more displaced before a cease-fire was signed in 2002. Hostilities have resumed and intensified since the end of 2005, with the government recently claiming victory over rebel forces in the east.