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Sri Lanka

PRESIDENT DENIES CHURCH BOMBING, CATHOLICS FLEE REBEL ATTACKS

Updated: August 06, 1995 05:00 PM GMT
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Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has denied reports that the Air Force bombed a Catholic church in rebel-held Jaffna, saying Church officials confirm her stand.

"Only a few tiles of the roof were damaged by an explosion in the vicinity and the church building stands unscathed," Kumaratunga said in an interview broadcast over national radio and television Aug. 4.

A message confirming the government claim regarding Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Navaly town was expected imminently from Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna, according to the president.

Details of an explosion in the church compound July 9 that killed several people are still not clear. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for Tamil autonomy in the north and east, blamed government forces.

International Committee of the Red Cross officials confirmed early reports of a bombing, and a military spokesman then confirmed the destruction of the church but said rebel mortar fire could have been the cause.

A letter from Bishop Savundaranayagam to Kumaratunga said 65 civilians died and many nearby houses were destroyed.

In the Aug. 4 interview, Kumaratunga said Tamil rebels camped close to the church were firing mortars at soldiers advancing into rebel-held territory. "The army was firing artillery shells in a completely different direction."

-- Meanwhile, more than 700 Catholic fishing families have fled LTTE attacks on their east coast villages in the Kallarawa, Pullumottai and Wakara areas for Duwa on the west coast, to where they trace their roots.

Tamil rebels launched four major attacks on the Sinhalese migrants in 1985, 1987, 1990 and most recently in May. Forty-two men, women and children were killed in the late night attack May 25.

The Catholic National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development arranged the move. About 540 families are staying with friends and relatives, and 160 families in the school buildings alongside the Duwa church.

Special efforts are being made to find temporary shelter for them to prevent interruption of school sessions. Duwa is near Negombo, a mostly Catholic town about 40 kilometers north of Colombo.

Auxiliary Bishop Malcolm Ranjith of Colombo, the national commission head, and Father J.B. Devarajah, national director of the bishops´ Social and Economic Development Centre, visited the refugees Aug. 3.

Catholic fisherfolk migrated to coastal areas of Trincomalee district starting in 1949. They built a church in Kallarawa and celebrated their first feast in honor of Saint Anthony in 1951. The late Father Arulappa, a Tamil priest of Trincomalee-Batticaloa diocese, looked after their pastoral needs.

END

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