Bishop concerned at troops proximity to church

[TamilNet, Friday, 26 March 1999, 22:22 GMT]
The Bishop of Mannar Rt.Rev.Rayappu Joseph has strongly objected to the presence of Sri Lankan Army (SLA) troops in the precincts of the Madhu church. Although the army had initially given an undertaking that it would only be encamped in the environs of the Madhu church for two weeks, arrangements being made now indicate that troops intend staying permanently in the precincts, said the Bishop.

He said that if no action is taken to move the troops out the Catholic church would be compelled to start protest fasts and mass agitation.

sla_madhu_3.jpgThe Bishop visited the western sector of the Mannar district which is not under the SLA control yesterday.

Church sources said that he had seen people who fled their homes during Rana Gosa II earlier this week and are stranded in the jungles and open spaces in Kalliady, Illuppaikadavai, Moonraampiddy, Koilkulam, Kaathankulam, Palapperumaal Kaddu.

They said that demand for shelter is so acute that some civilians been compelled to take refuge in the meagre shade of the Palmyrah palms.

The areas where the people have found refuge are infested with poisonous snakes they said.

More than hundred snakes were killed yesterday by the refugees.

A young woman died on Tuesday when she went into labour prematurely while fleeing from her home at Palaperumaal Kaddu. She had been displaced from Jaffna in 1995.

The Bishop had asked people to return home so that their suffering could ease. The refugees had told him that they fear the SLA would start shelling their villages again.

A priest who accompanied the Bishop yesterday told the TamilNet correspondent that he never seen such suffering in his life.

He said that the Bishop has requested the army not to fire artillery and mortars on the villages in western sector of the Mannar mainland to enable the civilians to return.

Meanwhile the army started screening and registering people in Madhu, nearby villages and Open Refugee camps this afternoon. Civilians who have been screened are being issued with the SLA's 'family card'.

Foreign aid agency sources said this evening that the eight bodies found near Madhu when the army moves into the area on Tuesday belonged to the Liberation Tigers.

Meanwhile, Dr. Jayalath Jeyawardana, a UNP parliamentarian who recently visited the Madhu area, has issued a statement stressing the importance of maintaining the neutrality of the church.

"The Sri Lankan Government should consider Madhu Church Camp as a Most Sacred Place," the statement said.

The statement went on to say that the church was an important sacred site for the Catholic faith that had been neglected by the Government.

"Madhu Church is the most sacred place of worship of the Catholics and is known world over and so dear to many of the other faiths in the country. During the last 4 years Sri Lankan Authorities did not allow to send even one bag of cement or lime for the maintenance work of the Shrine. The buildings of the shrine needs regular maintenance, as they are fairly old," said the statement.

Dr. Jeyawardana went on to say that the neutral zone maintained by the church authorities while the area was under LTTE control facilitated the recent meeting between religious leaders and the LTTE's political leadership.

"The Church Authorities did not allow L.T.T.E, to carry weapons in the sacred area. This was a true Zone of peace. In fact recent peace delegation which included 25 Buddhist Monks, Christian and Catholic Bishops met the L.T.T.E Political leader Mr.Tamilchelvam and Mr.Karikalan at a place close to Madhu" he said.

"If the Government is still interested in peace negotiations it is absolutely important and vital to maintain the neutrality in the holy area," the statement concluded. (Photos: Reuters)


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