Troops storm Church as Sri Lanka on brink of war

Sri Lankan government forces, shooting indiscriminately, stormed a Catholic Church in a Tamil area at the weekend killing five people and injuring many others, according to witnesses.

The government denied the accusation and blamed Tamil Tiger rebels, but numerous witnesses and a Bishop said Sri Lankan forces were responsible for the deaths as the island nation appeared to stumble even closer toward all-out war.

The Age reports that the killings came hours after the Tigers had assaulted a navy base in the same remote northwestern fishing village, Pesalai, triggering a naval and helicopter battle that in turn prompted the Tamils to seek refuge in the church where they were attacked.

The past few days have seen the worst violence since an often-violated ceasefire was signed in 2002 by the government and the Tamil Tigers, who control much of Sri Lanka's north and east.

The rebels, formally called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been fighting for more than two decades to create a homeland for the country's 3.2 million predominantly Hindu Tamils, a minority that has faced decades of discrimination at the hands of the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority.

The civil war killed more than 65,000 people before the ceasefire, and as talks to build on the truce have faltered, sporadic shootings and bombings in and around Tiger strongholds have escalated into near-daily violence.

In a hospital in Mannar, near Pesalai, many injured villagers gave near-identical accounts of security forces indiscriminately shooting into the Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, then opening fire in the village.

According to TamilNet, Bishop Rayappu Joseph, one of the first persons to enter the church, Our Lady of Victory, after the attack, told media that the attack was carried out by Sri Lanka Navy troopers.

"There was no fight at the land; no LTTE cadre was there," when government troopers went amok in Pesalai, the Bishop of Mannar Diocese told BBC Tamil Service on Saturday.

Fear has gripped civilians of Pesalai, who have no other place to seek safety, says Parish Priest Vincent Patric Cruz. Around three thousand civilians, most of them women and children, were forced to remain inside the Church, for hours, among the flesh and blood of the victims.

The Bishop also said that four fishermen had been shot through the mouth. He said he had seen the bodies of the fishermen on the beach still holding their ID cards in their hands.

He also said as he was travelling to the scene he saw dwelling huts of the fishermen burning all along the coastal way of Vankalaipaadu.

Pesalai victims traumatized (TamilNet 18/6/06)
Sri Lanka military storm church, kills 5 (The Age 18/6/06)
Sri Lanka on brink of war (The Guardian 18/6/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Sri Lanka : keeping the peace in a sharply divided society (Lanka Library)
Caritas Sri Lanka Peace Forum

Caritas calls for urgent mediation in Sri Lanka (CathNews, 27/4/2006)

Critics: Tamils targeted in Sri Lanka (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 18/6/2006)
Killing as Many as 47, Sri Lanka Forces and Rebels Clash (Lanka Everything, 18/6/2006)

19 Jun 2006