Archbishop's statement an observation, not endorsement of military action- Bishops

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 22 May 2007, 15:41 GMT]
Amid continuing controversy following comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury which appeared to justify President Mahinda Rajapakse’s military action against the Tamil Tigers, two Sinhala Bishops Wednesday defended Archbishop Rowan Williams, saying his comments had been taken out of context. In a letter to TamilNet, Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe, Bishop of Kurunagala, and Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo, said Archbishop Williams had meant that military action was not justified “unless it had the clear aim of enhancing the possibility of dialogue.”

The TamilNet report originally filed on May 11, 2007 stated:

    "It is undoubtedly inevitable that what you might call surgical military action against terrorism should take place", Archbishop Williams said.

    The Archbishop said that he hoped and prayed that military action would lead to an opening of communication between the government and the Tamil Tigers.

    "But we all hope and pray that that will lead not to ...victory for one, defeat for another, but to an opening of communication, a re-establishment of the possibilities for civil society to develop", he said.

    The Archbishop told journalists in Colombo, the government’s military solution to the problems of the country "increasingly appears to be no solution".
On Tuesday, Bishops Illangasinghe and de Chickera wrote to TamilNet saying Archbishop Williams had been misquoted and that he had, in fact, said the following:

“The military solution to the problems of the country increasingly appear to be no solution. It is undoubtedly inevitable that what you might call ‘surgical’ military action against terrorism should take place but we all hope and pray that it will lead not to desolation, victory for one and defeat for another, but to an opening of communication, a reestablishment of the possibility for civil societies to develop.”

By saying this, according to Bishops Illangasinghe and de Chickera, “whilst acknowledging that government forces will react to attacks, the Archbishop is questioning whether such a military response was justified unless it had the clear aim of enhancing the possibility of dialogue amongst both sides.”

“The Archbishop’s comments about military action were certain not an endorsement of but rather an observation on the present reality in Sri Lanka,” they asserted.

TamilNet’s editorial board Tuesday said they stood by the original story which had, in its lead paragraph, clearly pointed out the Archbishop’s linkage between “surgical military strikes against terrorism” and “an opening of communication between the government and the Liberation Tigers.”

The full text of the letter to TamilNet signed by Bishops Illangasinghe and de Chickera follows:

We express our concern that the report titled “Archbishop accepts Colombo’s military action” conveys a misleading impression of the real stance of the Archbishop of Canterbury and what he stated at his media conference on Thursday 10 May 2007, at which we were both present.

Your report singles out a sentence from a statement he made without reference to the sentence that preceded it and the words that followed it. The Archbishop stated the following-

“The military solution to the problems of the country increasingly appear to be no solution. It is undoubtedly inevitable that what you might call “surgical” military action against terrorism should take place but we all hope and pray that it will lead not to desolation, victory for one and defeat for another, but to an opening of communication, a reestablishment of the possibility for civil societies to develop.”

Here, whilst acknowledging that government forces will react to attacks, the Archbishop is questioning whether such a military response was justified unless it had the clear aim of enhancing the possibility of dialogue amongst both sides. He then went on to stress the importance of addressing the underlying causes of tension and the need for a negotiated political solution to the island’s ethnic conflict. The Archbishop’s comments about military action were certain not an endorsement of but rather an observation on the present reality in Sri Lanka. The Archbishop’s views were consistent with his well known views on war which led him to critique the British Government’s intervention in Iraq.

The Archbishop’s position at the media conference, taken as a whole, made it clear that he was opposed to any military solution to the island’s ethnic conflict and that he was very concerned about human rights violations, child conscription and the problems faced by internally displaced persons. He emphasized the need for engagement with those outside the political process. At no point at the media conference did he “accept Colombo’s military action,” or condone it. The Archbishop consistently maintained this position at meetings he had with a cross-section of political, religious and civil society leaders and groups that he met while in Sri Lanka, including the meetings with the President and the Leader of the Opposition.

We shall be grateful if you will please give adequate publicity to this statement of clarification, which will help to provide your readership with a more accurate description of the proceedings of the media conference as well as of the clear and consistent stance taken by the Archbishop of Canterbury. We trust that this clarification will also address the pain that the news report has caused many persons who read your report.

The Rt Revd Kumara Illangasinghe Bishop of Kurunagala The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera Bishop of Colombo


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