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The Eastern Province - Authority, Integrity and the Plight of the People
By The Rt. Revd. Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
 
CEYLON 070216-1
February 16, 2007

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] I have just returned from a Pastoral visit to the Eastern province. A sense of helplessness and frustration prevails. Armed security force personnel, check points, and the sound of continuous shelling are as real and conspicuous as are the camps for internally displaced persons. Both realities of war and displacement seem to be accepted with a sense of fatalism.

The people take each day as it comes. Reports of more deaths, more conscription, more displaced persons and more hartals are part of life. People speak only if they trust you. Independent voices are growing cynical and subdued. There is no trusted authority to hear their fears and grievances. In matters of life and death the people are weary of the cycle of bureaucratic explanations followed with indifference and inaction. There is a feeling that politico-military agendas are far more important than people and that little will be done to avert the hardship of the masses. These anxious persons are Sri Lankan, living in democratic Sri Lanka in 2007.

Loss and Hopelessness: The children in the IDP camps look hopelessly malnourished. The adults languish daily with nothing to do and nothing to look forward to. When asked to move they will move. When asked to stop they have no option. Their faces tell sad stories of death and loss of all that was valuable. They are grateful for survival, but for what? They ask. The work of certain NGOs and religious groups help sustain and bring some dignity to life. These camps are frequently under threat of militant groups for forced conscription of children and youth. State Officials are uncertain about policy, security, provisions and the future of the IDPs. They clearly know little or do not want to know more.

A New Oppression: Two contending Tamil militant groups, the LTTE and the TMVP (Karuna Faction) engage in forced conscription of children and youth. Those conscripted by the TMVP are reportedly taken to a camp in Welikande for training. Those conscripted by the LTTE simply disappear. Some escape and live in hiding, but not for long.

The people fear and resent the presence of these groups. They are referred to in whispers. Other than the heartbreaking resistance of parents, there is absolutely no system or service in place to stop or reduce these crimes. The people are at the mercy of a lawlessness that spreads with suffocating impunity. A new oppression emerges as the liberation of the east is announced, and the GOSL cannot continue to ignore or avoid its responsibility any longer.

Freedom and Security for Learning: The abduction of the Vice Chancellor of the Eastern University done with impunity in Colombo defies explanation. He is a respected academic and kept out of divisive politics. I support the several appeals, especially that of the UGC, made for tracing him and urge his abductors to release him.

The provocative explosion of a claymore mine opposite the Eastern University that killed 11 security persons and injured several must be condemned outright. The prompt action of a military officer to avert retaliation deserves the highest commendation. The Forces proved their ability to behave professionally when under pressure. Steps are being taken by the Acting VC and staff to restore normalcy. Some tension still prevails but students should return for lectures. The interrogation of those taken in on suspicion must be expedited and the innocent released soon. This will help the return to normalcy. An MOU on shared security between the University and security forces is necessary to prevent any such repetitions.

Religion and Politics: The killing of the Hindu Kurukkal (Priest) must also be condemned. This appears to be the work of the LTTE as he had recently blessed the President. There is some uncertainty as to whether he was fully aware of his mission when invited to perform a religious duty. In today's very complex and subtle political context Clergy of all Religions must assert their independence and act with great discernment in all dealings with other non-religious authorities. These are indispensable attributes and credentials for their continuing work amongst people of all communities, and must be safeguarded. All authorities, political, military, militant and NGO, must consequently respect this stance and refrain from imposing their agendas on the Clergy.