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Sri Lankan bishop shrugs off Tamil separatist charges

Prelate called an 'anarchist' for alleged support of Tamil rights

Sri Lankan bishop shrugs off Tamil separatist charges
Tamil refugees wait to leave a settlement camp in northern Sri Lanka last year reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

April 24, 2013

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A Catholic bishop responded today to allegations by local media accusing him and the Church of engaging in a conspiracy to promote a separate Tamil state in collaboration with representatives of the Indian government.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Manar said he had never advocated an autonomous state for the ethnic Tamil population as a viable political solution to the country's ongoing reconciliation issues.

“I have neither stood for the separation of the country nor at any time rejected any viable political solution to the national question,” said Bishop Joseph, who serves as the vice chairman of the Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development.

The allegations followed a visit by a delegation of Indian parliamentarians this month.

“The recent media reports are totally inaccurate and misleading,” Bishop Joseph said.

“I reiterate that as a Catholic leader who has always had the welfare of my people at heart, I never hesitate to speak out for their rights and wellbeing.”

The bishop was among several other Catholic priests and rights activists who signed a petition last month during a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, during which they sought action on unresolved grievance of Tamil communities in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

The UNHRC subsequently passed a resolution urging the government to allow an independent investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the civil war that ended in 2009.

The bishop’s involvement with the petition has prompted accusations from government officials and the local press.

Nishantha Warnasinghe, publicity secretary for the government coalition party Jathika Hela urumaya, accused the bishop of being a Tamil separatist.

“Even the war crimes charges were being highlighted by the bishop,” Warnasinghe said.

Father Sarath Iddamalgoda, a human rights activist, said that refuting media reports is difficult, since the media is totally dependent on government and military sources.

“I have been at several meetings where the bishop spoke his mind on national issues, but he never stood for a separation of the country. He strongly stood for a political solution which respects the Tamil identity,” Fr Iddamalgoda said.

He added: “We have not seen any serious attempt on the part of the government to implement a political solution, and we can see that the media has a biased mind and an agenda to destroy the good name of the bishop.”

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