Global Perspective

June 20, 2006 Vol. 4, No. 5

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Danielle Vella writes from Colombo, Sri Lanka for, a news agency maintained by the Milan, Italy, based Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, known popularly as PIME.



Catholic church attacked; bishop accuses navy

By Danielle Vella

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- The Sri Lankan Navy has been widely blamed for a June 17attack on the parish church of a northern coastal village, which struck civilians seeking refuge from escalated violence between the island’s warring parties.

A 70-year-old woman was killed and more than 40 people were injured in the early morning attack by a handful of troopers, who lobbed one or more grenades into Our Lady of Victory Church in Pesalai village in Mannar district.

Army spokesmen blamed the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the attack on the Tamil village but the Bishop of Mannar Rayappu Joseph said no LTTE cadres were present when the Navy troopers “ran amok in Pesalai.”

A priest from the diocese told AsiaNews: “From what I heard from reliable sources, the hand grenade lobbed inside the church was indeed thrown by a member of the navy.”

Earlier that same morning, heavy fighting broke out in the sea close to Pesalai between the Navy and LTTE; 30 combatants were reportedly killed. The priest said: “The fight was going on in the sea, but the displaced people were attacked in the church, which is near the sea, but not on the seashore.”

Navy troops were also blamed for the killings in Pesalai and surrounding areas of four fishermen, who were each shot through the mouth and killed on the beach. Fisher families’ huts and boats also were destroyed.

Recently, Pesalai residents and people displaced from elsewhere have been seeking shelter in the parish church, especially at night, because of increasing violence. On 15 June, in response to an attack -- suspected to be by the LTTE -- on the Pesalai police station, the police fired rocket propelled grenades directed at the thickly populated village.

One of the houses struck by the grenades belonged to the family of Fr. Jeyabalan Croos, a priest of Mannar diocese. He told AsiaNews: “A ‘shell’ landed on the kitchen of my family’s house. They are all very scared and went to the church to spend the night. Why are innocent people victimized for the atrocities of some militants?”

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Croos is the parish priest of Illupaikulam in Vavuniya district. Sixty-four Sinhalese civilians were killed there June 15 in the most deadly attack since the government and the LTTE signed a ceasefire agreement in 2002. The LTTE has been blamed for the claymore mine attack that killed the civilians, but the group denies responsibility.

Croos said: “My parish is near Sinhalese villages. So even here, people do not want to stay at home during the night. They are afraid of possible reprisals from the nearby villagers. So almost all the village has come to sleep in the church.”

Croos added: “I am afraid that the war will start sooner than we expected. God save us!”

Reuters news agency was reporting today (June 20) that the LTTE had agreed to resume peace talks with the Sri Lankan government being mediated by Norway. The rebels had walked out of talks in Oslo earlier this month without meeting the Sri Lankan government delegation.

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