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Signs of Hope Amidst Shocking Apathy
A Statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
CEYLON 061007-1
October 7, 2006

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] Our civil war has taken a cruel and sinister turn against the Tamils of our Country. Due to security measures and a military impasse between the GoSL and LTTE the Peninsula and uncleared areas have been deprived of adequate supplies of food, fuel and other essentials since 11/8. Sporadic rationing of food and kerosene does not match the crisis. Infant milk powder is scarce. Petrol is not available; and diesel, not available in the Vanni, is rationed on the Peninsula. The shortage of kerosene and diesel affects cultivation and fishing, the operation of generators in hospitals, and transport. The Peninsula receives ten hours of staggered electricity; the Vanni none.

Functioning of Schools and Humanitarian Aid

Education in the Peninsula is being politicized through a boycott of schooling, to pressurize the re-opening of the A9 road. In the Vanni teachers and parents are reluctant to send their adolescent children to schools and tutories. A twelve-hour curfew is in force from six to six in the Peninsula; and people are restricted and cannot get out easily. A handful make it by ship from the Peninsula. Movement out of the Vanni is virtually at a standstill. Desperate appeals for adequate humanitarian aid have not been heeded by the authorities. The presence of INGOs with a reputation for humanitarian intervention makes little difference as mandates are quoted to explain inaction.

Killings and Abductions

Daily, Tamils are being abducted or killed in the North and East. Unidentified armed groups move around with ease and impunity on roads full of security personnel and check points, spreading death and fear. Those suspected of being informants or sympathizers are particularly targetted. Also targeted are those who critique the violent, provoke community awareness or express democratic dissent and other points of view. The number of such cases has reached the staggering figure of 1000 over the past eight months. Details of these incidents have been tabulated and those in responsibility appraised. Visible structures of law and order and Special Departments have not led to arrests or a decrease in this vicious trend.

Killings and abductions of businessmen for huge ransoms have occurred frequently in Colombo. In the South one hears of stories of harassment of small, isolated plantation Tamil communities. The LTTE and Tamils are hastily, conveniently and dangerously being lumped together.

Fear and intimidation which have paralyzed the Tamil Community now threatens the Muslim Community of the East. Independent Tamil voices are growing faint, mostly out of fear but also out of disillusionment. To speak or question is dangerous and brings no remedy. Non violent Tamils are trapped between the agendas of violent regimes and have nowhere to turn. Hundreds have fled to India. Thousands are internally displaced and the majority live in uncertainty and fear. Women and children are most affected.

Apathy of Political Leaders

People know about these happenings and simply watch as fellow citizens are intimidated and violated. Government Ministers are unbelievably silent while large sections of our population suffer. With a few courageous exceptions from the smaller parties, hardly any Sinhala politician raises these concerns or speaks on behalf of these fellow Sri Lankans.

Our divisive tradition of ethnically segregated parliamentary politics no doubt contributes to this sad situation. Our Parliamentarians of all communities have a reputation for speaking for their own community and remaining silent when others suffer. Whatever the reason, the people have the right to interpret this silence amongst political leaders, elected to ensure good governance, as gross negligence.

This silence of leaders has a spill over effect. In the continuing violence Sri Lankans have grown immune to the war deaths of hundreds of young men and women and child combatants. These soldiers and cadres are our sons and daughters. These are our children forcibly conscripted. They are certainly not the sons and daughters and children of those who take violent decisions. And most tragically these are the poor; the “dispensable” elements of our utterly selfish and competitive society. While they destroy each other, others deliberate to regain lost power or embrace more power.

In this vacuum a new leadership has emerged in the North and East. These are the courageous and committed persons who strive at great sacrifice and risk to retain some sense of normalcy and human community and keep hope alive. These are those who remain at their posts in Government Departments, Schools, Hospitals and so on. They include the Clergy. They need to be commended for performing a near impossible task. If not for them the crisis would have led to chaos by now.

Pleas to All Sides

In these desperate circumstances I call upon the GoSL to take immediate and transparent steps to stop all killings and abductions in the cleared areas. The GoSL must also expedite the independent investigation of all atrocities. It is the Governments primary mandate to ensure that our streets are safe for all. I urge the Opposition to fulfill its mandate and call the Government to accountability in this regard. I also call upon the LTTE to stop all child and forced conscriptions and intimidation immediately.

I plead with the GoSL and LTTE to co-operate in ensuring the steady supply of food, fuel and other essentials to the Peninsula and all uncleared areas. If the humanitarian agencies cannot facilitate this, inter religious groups are available to do so.

I appeal to the Student Union concerned to call off the boycott of schools in the Peninsula and the GoSL to facilitate school attendance by providing adequate fuel for public transport and further relaxing the curfew hours.

I urge all Sri Lankans and specially all religious leaders to look beyond the fears and aspirations of our own communities and to speak for and stand with the afflicted of all ethnic groups. This is our shared moral responsibility. This cross cultural solidarity will make a huge difference in our common journey towards peace, as it has in other parts of the world.

Hope and the Resumption of Talks

I whole heartedly welcome the possibility of a resumption of peace talks. I also welcome the dialogue amongst the political parties in the South and the Presidents recent affirmative comments on the role of the international community as well as the need to devolve power. If backed with the right behaviour these could be signs that we are approaching the ripe moment for peace. The weariness of battle, the cries of the afflicted and the poor, growing civil society intervention and world solidarity add to this momentum.

These talks must however be approached with seriousness. We must avoid quarrelling on trivialities even before the talks begin. Moderate persons with a tested commitment to peace must sit at the table. The principle of devolution with a southern consensus must be offered by the GoSL. The LTTE must rise from its illusive and idealistic position and respond. Muslim interests must be heard.

May the God of Peace soon bring our aching hearts and bleeding nation, dignity, justice and true freedom.

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo