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Places of worship not safe in Sri Lanka conflict


Christian groups have joined with non-governmental organizations to warn about the killing of religious leaders and attacks on places of worship during a resurgence of fighting between government and rebel forces in Sri Lanka.

"We call on the government as well as all armed groups, to respect places of religious worship as places of refuge and ‘zones of peace’," urged 18 action groups in a statement sent to the UN Human Rights Council which is now meeting in Geneva.

"Places of worship should be the safest places," Ainslie Joseph, convenor of the Colombo-based Christian Alliance for Social Action, told Ecumenical News International on 14 September. "But from our experience, even such places are not safe in war zones."

The appeal was supported by the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians.

Recent incidents of attacks on places of worship and religious leaders include:

  • The killing of 5 people and wounding of 29 others when grenades rolled into the Grand Mosque in Akkairapattu in November 2005;
  • The shooting dead in May 2006 of Buddhist monk Nandarathna Thero known for his anti-war stance and efforts to build good relations between Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims;
  • An attack in June 2006 on the Roman Catholic church at Pesalai, Mannar district, where 6000 people had sought shelter from fighting between government forces and Tamil rebels;
  • The shelling of the Catholic Church at Allaipiddy, Jaffna district in August 2006;
  • The disappearance of Catholic priest the Rev. Nihal Jim Brown in Allaipiddy in Jaffna district in August 2006;
  • The slaying of Hindu priest Selliah Parameshwaram in February 2007;
  • The forced movement of internally-displaced people from Madhu Church in Mannar district in March 2007;

The statement also noted allegations brought by the government’s Media Centre for National Security against Tamil rebels including the firing of small arms against the sacred Somawathi Buddhist temple located in the east of the island in June 2006, and an attack the following month against Buddhist monks.

Ecumenical News International