Sri Lanka claims rebel grenade, cyanide find in church

Sri Lankan government troops claim to have discovered in a Catholic church grenades, cyanide capsules and equipment belonging to rebel forces as the country's new environment minister calls for "extra-judicial" means for dealing with "dissidents".

Reuters reports that the find comes amid a rash of suspected rebel ambushes and bomb attacks against the military in the peninsula, which is cut off from the rest of Sri Lanka by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) lines.

"It is clear that the LTTE terrorists will use every means ... using even places of worship, to continue their campaign of terror," the Media Centre for National Security said concerning the find in a closed room in St Mary's Church in Jaffna on Tuesday.

However, the Tigers, who wear cyanide capsules around their neck to avoid being captured alive and are fighting a new chapter of a two-decade civil war with the state, deny any involvement.

"That's impossible. We never use common buildings or public buildings as a base," Tiger military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthiraiyan said by telephone from Kilinochchi, the rebels' northern stronghold.

"We have no connection with those things. There are so many groups working with the military that have brought in such things, but we have no connection with that whatever."

The find comes as the foes fight artillery duels across a shared "border" that separates government from rebel territory in the far north, where analysts fear the conflict could flare after a series of major land and sea battles in recent months.

Churches under attack

Meanwhile, Journal Chretien reports that churches in north-east Sri Lanka are increasingly under attack.

"One wonders if the attacks on churches are just a coincidence, or an attempt by the government to warn the clergy not to give protection to these defenceless people," one source, who preferred to remain anonymous, told journalists.

The same source said those speaking out for IDPs were often silenced by intimidation or "elimination", often in the form of unexplained disappearances.

"The church, unable to remain a silent witness, has raised its concerns with the outside world," the source added. "The government of Sri Lanka has taken note and appears to have sought, directly and indirectly, to silence these voices by abducting and sometimes eliminating church officials."

On 13 January, members of the Sri Lankan security forces gunned down the Reverend Nallathamby Gnanaseelan., 38, a father to four young children, who led the Tamil Mission Church in Jaffna.

Minister wants to eliminate "dissidents"

Meanwhile in Colombo, Sri Lankan civil society groups have slammed the newly-appointed environment and natural resources minister, who suggested the possible use of illegal means against those who he claims bring chaos to the country, namely, Tamil rebels, journalists, peace and human rights activists, AsiaNews reports.

Patali Champika Ranawaka, an ultra-nationalist Sinhalese politician appointed environment and natural resources minister just two weeks ago, had suggested that extra-judicial means should be available to dealt with "dissidents" whether Tamil rebels or peace activists.

The controversy began last Sunday when Ranawaka told Ravaya, a local newspaper, that if existing laws were not adequate to re-establish order in the country, "we shall use other means".

Extremist minister in favour of extra-judicial means to 'restore order' (AsiaNews, 20/2/07)
Churches Increasingly Targeted in Sri Lankan Civil War (Journal Chretien, 20/2/07)
Sri Lanka says finds rebel grenades, cyanide at church (Reuters, 20/2/07)

Contribute positively to peace, Sri Lankan bishops tell rebels (CathNews, 2/2/07)
Sri Lankan bombing killed Christian civilians, bishop says (CathNews, 8/1/07)
Hobart Archbishop in Christmas call for "communion of hearts" (CathNews, 22/12/06)
Sri Lanka reopens road to avoid starvation (CathNews, 21/11/06)
Sri Lankan priest disappears as civilian toll mounts (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Sri Lanka ceasefire in tatters (CathNews, 11/8/06)
Caritas calls for pressure as Sri Lankan church bombed, schoolgirls killed (CathNews, 17/8/06)
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)

22 Feb 2007