Sri Lanka Hitting Boiling Point, Alerts Caritas
Violence Is Slowing Tsunami Reconstruction
ROME, MARCH 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- A military offensive in the eastern Batticaloa province of Sri Lanka has led to a "very volatile" situation, according to the director of Caritas in the Southern Asian nation.
"At any moment, anything can happen," said Father Damian Fernando to Caritas Internationalis this week in Rome. "The government appears to have gone on the offensive and to be seeking a military solution to the conflict."
As many as 200,000 people have been forced from their homes in the past six months, as the island nation experiences the worst fighting between the army and the Tamil Tigers since a 2002 cease-fire, the United Nations said last week.
In just the past two weeks, the town of Batticaloa has become refuge to some 50,000 people fleeing attacks and shelling. Another 40,000 people have crossed from the conflict zones into government-controlled areas to flee the fighting, reported Caritas.
Father Fernando said that in addition to the military offensives in the east, "various paramilitary groups ... are active, and killings and disappearances are on the rise."
"Some of them are political killings, and some even happen in the capital Colombo ... it could be anybody that gets killed," he added.
Not taking sides
The director said Caritas continues to work in the country as a nonpartisan organization.
He said: "In the north, in the Jaffna Peninsula, we are delivering humanitarian aid to people who have had to leave their homes because of the conflict.
"Many people are trapped there, living in refugee camps, because the government has closed off the area.
"But we are allowed by both sides to travel to and from the area."
Father Fernando reported that Caritas-Sri Lanka is also working to promote peace: "We are working quietly with all sides ... to help bring about peace."
The Caritas director revealed that tsunami reconstruction projects on the coast have been suspended because of the fighting.
"We have been able to continue with the reconstruction work that is taking place in government-controlled areas, while clearly in other areas where there is conflict we have had to suspend tsunami reconstruction," Father Fernando said.
He added: "But all of our work has been slowed somewhat by the scarcity and the soaring prices of building materials.
"Nevertheless, last month we handed over 120 houses to families whose homes were destroyed by the tsunami.
"We work with a certain fear of what might happen. But we have to take care of people's basic need for shelter."