The country's Catholic Bishops have expressed concern over army activity at the national Marian shrine, asking the President to help protect the sanctity of the area.
    Bishop Joseph had written to President Chandrika Kumaratunga April 5 about government troops' disregard for commitments the president had made to keep the area around the Shrine of Our Lady of Madhu as a peace zone.
    Earlier this year, the president had assured Bishop Joseph of Mannar that she would ban armed security forces from the 160-hectacre shrine grounds and insist that they accord the shrine due respect as a sacred site in accord with the bishop's request. But while these conditions were observed initially, the bishop said troops had started to bring in arms, which he feared could spark renewed fighting in the area between the military and the LTTE. There are also allegations that they had taken away some of the 10,000 refugees who were using the site as a safe haven.
    Despite those concerns, hundreds of Catholic pilgrims have visited the shrine. About 250 visitors from Ratnapura diocese made a pilgrimage at the end of April.

10:15am 7/5/99 / UCA News


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