Caritas calls for pressure as Sri Lankan church bombed, schoolgirls killed

Reacting to the latest atrocities in northern Sri Lanka in which a Catholic church was shelled and 61 schoolgirls were killed in an air raid on a school, Caritas Australia has backed a call by its Sri Lankan counterpart for international pressure to bring government and rebel parties back to the negotiating table.

The indiscriminate targeting of civilians and the terrible toll the conflict is taking on all Sri Lankan people urgently needs condemnation, Caritas Australia said yesterday, calling on the Australian Government to "show leadership" in addressing the Asian country's deteriorating situation.

It says the failure of the international community to prevent the escalating violence in Sri Lanka is undermining years of peace negotiations and development achievements.

Jack de Groot, CEO of Caritas Australia said, "Australia, with a large Sri Lankan population, is well placed to push for the cessation of hostilities as it is well respected in the region."

At least 15 people were killed and 20 seriously wounded this week when shells hit a church near Sri Lanka's Jaffna peninsula, while Government jets bombing Mullativu had hit a children's home killing 61 girls.

The Government has claimed that the Mullativu orphanage bombed by air force planes was a rebel base and training facility for child soldiers, according to AsiaNews.

But a UNICEF representative said that there is no proof to support army claims that the teenage girls killed in the air raid in northern Sri Lanka were rebel fighters.

"These were children from surrounding schools in the area who were brought there for a two-day training workshop on first aid, by whom we don't know yet," said UNICEF Sri Lanka representative, JoAnna VanGerpen.

She said the fact finders were "horrified" at the carnage they found when they went on site. Apart from the high death toll, the attack injured 150 girls.

Sri Lankan government defence spokesman, Keheliya Rambukwella, dismissed the findings of the foreign aid workers and monitors, saying they had not used military experts in their research. "We have studied this for three years ... They used this place to provide the Tigers with combatants," he said. "If the children are terrorists, what can we do?"

"The fact is that gender or the age limit is of no concern when it comes to training and when it comes to soldiers, because they are carrying arms in order to kill the enemy," continued Rambukwella.

The bombing of the orphanage followed earlier incidents in which two terrorist attacks in the north struck a church and children's home in crossfire between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers rebel group (LTTE).

Pope Benedict addressing pilgrims in the courtyard of his summer residence in Castel Gandolfo prayed to Mary on Tuesday, the feast day honouring Mary, for peace in Sri Lanka.

"My thought goes also to the dear nation of Sri Lanka, threatened by the deterioration of the ethnic conflict," he said.

"To Mary, the Queen of Peace, I entrust the worries of the world tormented by violence. We ask her to help in the victory of peace, today," he prayed.

Sri Lanka conflict: International community must end its inaction and stop the war. (Caritas Australia, Media Release, 16/8/06)
Hell in the north: church and children's home destroyed (AsiaNews, 14/8/06)
Church Shelled In Government Attack On LTTE In Jaffna (UCA News, 14/8/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Caritas Australia
Caritas Sri Lanka Social and Economic Development Centre

Sri Lanka ceasefire in tatters (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Troops storm Church as Sri Lanka on brink of war (CathNews, 19/6/06)
Caritas calls for urgent mediation in Sri Lanka (CathNews, 27/4/06)

The 61 girls killed in Mullativu were not "rebels", just school girls (Asia News, 16/8/06)

17 Aug 2006