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Catholic bishops meet Tamil Tiger rebels

Ten Sri Lankan bishops have held peace talks with high-ranking Tamil rebel leaders to help end the country's 17-year civil war.

The Tablet reports that the move followed the abandonment by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of a four-month unilateral cease-fire. It says the rebels were urged not to divert from the path of peace by the church leaders, led by Bishop Oswald Gomis of Anuradhapura, president of the bishops' conference. They were also asked to clarify their stance on the issue of a separate state for Tamils.

The rebels demanded that Tamils be treated as equal citizens 'enjoying all the rights and privileges' available to the Sinhalese majority on the island. They felt that the truce had become unsustainable in the face of government 'aggression' and the 'apathy' of the international community.

Meanwhile in northern Sri Lanka, the bishops, who launched a major prayer campaign for peace three months ago, also visited some 13,000 refugees in the grounds of the Our Lady of Madhu shrine. The civil war has seen the deaths of 60,000 people and the displacement of one million others.

A Catholic priest was found dead with multiple stab wounds in his parish rectory on 11 May in Negombo, a predominantly Catholic town 30 kilometres north of the capital Colombo. The motive is unknown and there are no suspects so far. The victim, Fr Aba Costa, was a Sinhalese scholar and contributed articles regularly to the Catholic press and local journals. He was a renowned campaigner for the rights of poor people, and his funeral was attended by thousands of mourners. Catholics in the area attest that he was 'bold and fearless' and still vigorous at 76, the age he was killed. Archbishop Nicholas Marcus Fernando of Colombo presided at the requiem mass.