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 CNS Story:

SRILANKA-OBLATE May-13-2009 (500 words) With photo. xxxi

Oblate priest appeals to world to help stop fighting in Sri Lanka

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- An Oblate priest has appealed to the world to pressure the Sri Lankan government and rebel forces to end fighting that has claimed hundreds of civilian lives.

Speaking to Catholic News Service by telephone from a fortified bunker in Mulliavaikkal, Sri Lanka, May 13, Father Saviripillai Edmund Reginald asked U.S. President Barack Obama, the United Nations and foreign ministers worldwide to take steps to end the fighting.

"I would very much like people to know the situation here," he said.

"It's a very, very, very bad situation here. The people here are desperate, and they need help from outside. They need food. They need medicine. They need medical facilities. It's a human catastrophe," he said.

The latest round of fighting began when government troops broke through positions held by Tamil separatists near previously declared no-fire zones, forcing thousands of civilians to flee. The separatists, known as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, have since been pushed onto a narrow peninsula on Sri Lanka's north coast.

About 1,000 civilians have been killed in the recent fighting. Since the separatists began their campaign in 1983, more than 80,000 people have died.

An estimated 150,000 people have been confined in a three-square-mile area near the shore, said Father Reginald, who runs a counseling center for people affected by the war. He also studied pastoral counseling at Loyola College in Maryland in the 1990s.

The priest charged that government forces surrounding the area continue to fire artillery rounds into the no-fire zone.

"In reality it's a war zone," he said.

Father Reginald said an economic blockade by the government has led the normal flow of food from the U.N. World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross to slow to a trickle. The blockade also has caused medical supplies to run dangerously low, he added.

Health care workers "cannot do much. So the injured people are left to die. There is no other way to save them," he said.

News reports May 13 said the only hospital in the war zone was damaged by shells killing at least 50 people.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse assured church officials during a May 11 meeting that displaced Tamil refugees residing in camps in the North will be released in groups to return to their homes, reported the Asian church news agency UCA News.

The meeting at the presidential palace in the capital of Colombo involved Archbishop Oswald Gomis of Colombo and Bishops Joseph Swampillai of Trincomalee-Batticaloa, Valence Mendis of Chilaw, Cletus Perera of Ratnapura and Harold Perera of Galle, chairman of the bishops' commission for justice, peace and human development.

Father Damian Fernando, director of the national Catholic charities organization Caritas Sri Lanka who also attended the meeting, told UCA News that the delegation explained the plight of the displaced people in the camps. He said the president was told that many people are separated from their families, and children have no opportunity to continue their education.


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