LETTERS URGED TO STOP SRI LANKA RAIDS AFTER BOMBING OF CHURCH KILLS NINE

Sri Lanka
1993-12-15 00:00:00

The Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples (ACPP) has launched a letter appeal to ask Sri Lanka leaders to stop raids such as the bombing of a Catholic church in Jaffna in which people were killed.

The Hotline network of the Hong Kong-based human rights monitor issued an urgent appeal Dec. 10 asking groups, churches and individuals to write to President D.B. Wijetunga asking an end to aerial bombing of places of worship.

It asked them to urge that the Sri Lanka military respect civilian areas.

A Sri Lankan Air Force plane bombed St. James Catholic Church in Jaffna on Nov. 13. At least nine people were killed, the heaviest toll in four days of raids on the city 390 kilometers north of Colombo.

Churches, Hindu temples, hospitals and even the government secretariat were bombed after 450 Sri Lankan soldiers died Nov. 11 in a raid by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the main Tamil rebel group.

The LTTE seeks a Tamil ethnic homeland in north and east Sri Lanka.

In a statement Nov. 20, Jaffna religious leaders condemned "the actions of the Sri Lankan Air Force, which seems to be guided by the sole motive of revenge and striking terror among the Tamil People."

The statement was signed by Catholic Bishop Thomas Savundranayagam of Jaffna, Church of South India Bishop D.J. Ambalavanar and chief Hindu priest Nallai Thiru Gnana Sampandar Atheenam.

It noted that "buildings used exclusively for sacred worship and public service are such large and prominent structures that no air force can pretend innocence about the targets being struck."

On Nov. 15, the fourth day of the raids, government hospitals in Kilinochchi and Mulliyavallai districts were bombed. A young mother was killed and many patients and staff injured.

St. Theresa´s Church in Kilinochchi and its parish house were also badly damaged. The Hindu temple at Vaarani was reported bombed Nov. 16.

"These events are not just sporadic occurrences but have been repeated so often in the recent past that we cannot but conclude it is part of state policy against the Tamils," the Nov. 20 statement said.

Tamils, about 18 percent of the country´s total population, are a majority in the north. Sinhalese comprise about 74 percent of the national majority.

Sri Lanka defense secretary Hamilton Wanasinghe said the church bombing was an unfortunate accident in which the aircraft missed its target.

The ACPP appeal said the dead and seriously injured "are very poor people who did not even have the means to bury their dead," and asked that families of victims be given "reasonable compensation."

The appeal also asks for funds to rebuild the 132-year-old St. James Church. Bishop Savundranayagam estimated replacement costs at more than US$1 million.

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