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SRILANKA-CARITAS Apr-27-2009 (550 words) xxxi

Caritas director seriously injured in Sri Lankan fighting

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- A local Caritas director was seriously injured in fighting in Sri Lanka's war-torn Vanni region, where tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days.

Father T. R. Vasanthaseelan, director of Caritas Vanni-Hudec, had to have one leg amputated after shells struck St. Anthony Church in Valaignarmadam April 23. Many civilians had sought safety in the church.

According to Caritas Internationalis headquarters in Rome, Father James Pathinathan, a member of the National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development, also was injured and was taken to a hospital in Anuradhapura. Caritas is an international confederation of Catholic relief, development and social service organizations.

Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Lesley-Anne Knight expressed concern for the people of Vanni and the church personnel working there.

"Father Vasanthaseelan is a much loved figure in Sri Lanka and throughout the Caritas confederation. He is a man of peace, courage and hope. He has lived among the people he seeks to serve and accompanied them through their suffering," Knight said in a statement.

"That aid workers are suffering only underlines how innocent people, women and children are being killed and injured in Sri Lanka's civil war and reinforces our calls for an immediate cease-fire," she said.

"Both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels have obligations to protect the lives of civilians and allow humanitarian access. The United Nations and the international community must hold them to these commitments," she said.

Caritas Internationalis said it had launched an appeal to provide emergency assistance to the war victims, including those made homeless by the fighting, returnees and war-affected families, especially women and children.

Caritas Sri Lanka's national director, Father Damian Fernando, said Caritas was continuing to help the needy and negotiate with the government to find a lasting solution for peace in the country.

"Sri Lanka is undergoing the worst scenario. Innocent civilians are paying a huge cost and are the worst hit. Already there are more than 130,000 who have crossed over to the government-controlled side," Father Fernando said.

"These people are coming out in highly traumatized conditions. Most of them are tired and worn out after months of suffering. Many of them are injured and some of them are very severely wounded. The hospitals have totally exceeded their capacity to receive the wounded," he said.

Vanni is the last bastion of the Tamil rebels, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who run a de facto state of more than 300,000 ethnic Tamil people. The rebel group launched an independence struggle against the Sinhalese-led government in 1983; since then the war has killed about 80,000 people and displaced more than a million.

Last September, the government ordered all aid workers, including U.N. officials, to withdraw from Vanni as government forces attacked the region to wipe out the Tamil rebels. A U.N. report estimates that nearly 6,500 rebels have been killed and 14,000 wounded in the last three months of fighting.

When government troops broke through rebel positions near a previously declared no-fire zone in late April, more than 100,000 civilians fled the area, according to Vatican Radio. The Sri Lankan government said April 27 it would stop using heavy weapons and airstrikes in the war zone to prevent further civilian casualties.

END


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