Sri Lankan government forces have regained control of the northern area on which the national Marian shrine - Our Lady of Madhu - is located. With the clearing of an 11 km stretch from the Madhu Road railway junction to the Madhu church, the Rana Gosa military operation, launched March 4, secured the area from Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) occupation.
    Shrine administrator Father Devasagayam told UCAN that more than 20,000 refugees are living in the Church compound and the vicinity, with a large number of refugees arriving daily from Tamil rebel-held areas.
    "The immediate needs of the people are food, medicine and protection," he said, adding that "they are still scared of the ravages of the war."
    The refugees, mostly from Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi, sought refuge at the shrine to avoid fighting between government and LTTE forces. Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar, who visited the area, assured the refugees that the government forces would provide security. The prelate had appealed both to President Chandrika Kumaratunga and to the LTTE to spare the 400 acres of the shrine, and the president had called him to give her assurance that troops would not conduct military actions there.
    "I have risked my life to prevent any LTTE militants from coming armed into the sacred area all this time," Bishop Joseph said, adding that he also did "not want the government forces to come in armed."

10:10am 12/4/99 / UCAN


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