The church-backed National Anti-War Front (NAWF) in Sri Lanka has appealed to the government and Tamil rebels to observe an immediate cease-fire during the Christmas season - writes Anto Akkara for Ecumenical News International.
"We appeal to the two parties to recognise the immense suffering people are facing as a result of the current hostilities, to respect the festive season; and to refrain from hostilities so that an opportunity is given to the people to celebrate in tranquillity," said the NAWF in a statement this week.
The call came during a resurgence of fighting around the eastern Batticaloa region where the Tamil rebels have pockets of control. The government says that in one week more than 17,000 Tamil civilians fled when Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels used them as human shields to resist attempts to flush their forces out from the Vaharai region.
The United Nations says that more than 35,000 Tamil civilians are trapped in the Vaharai region and dozens have been killed, with many more injured by "indiscriminate" shelling from both sides.
"These refugees have a right for respite and to celebrate Christmas without fear," Kumar Rupasinghe, the NAWF chairperson, told Ecumenical News International. "We want both sides to stop all firing immediately for Christmas," said Rupasinghe, a former UN official, who has worked in South African and Tanzanian peace missions.
Kingsley Perera, chairperson of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, a grouping of eight Protestant churches, told ENI: "We are glad that the anti-war front has spoken for us."
Quintus Anthonipillai, head of relief for Caritas Sri Lanka, told ENI, hundreds of Christians are among 12,000 refugees housed since August in schools at Trincomalee, where there are, he said, areas with a strong Christian presence.
Meanwhile, Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo has lamented that the message of Christmas, an "initiative taken by God to cross barriers and bring liberation and hope for all", is contravened by the "numerous barriers dividing us, depriving us and destroying us".
He noted: "Security barriers on our roads remind us that we are a people prone to hatred, violence and revenge ... Transport and supply barriers remind us that cruel political agendas take precedence over basic human need, even when food is freely available."
The renewed conflict has displaced more than 250,000 people. Nearly 20 per cent of Jaffna's half million people are Christians.
[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]