An international ecumenical consultation has appealed to the government of Sri Lanka and the rebel movement Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to halt fighting in order to free tens of thousands of civilians trapped in a war zone in the north of the country.
In a statement released at the end of an international ecumenical consultation held in Bangalore at the beginning of April, participants expressed "deep concern over the continuously worsening humanitarian crisis in the northern parts of Sri Lanka".
Some "180,000 people are trapped in the war zone amidst shelling and crossfire, lacking basic amenities like food, medicine, shelter [and] sanitation," says the statement issued by the consultation, which was organized by the World Council of Churches (WCC) together with the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and the South Asian Councils of Churches (SACC).
Participants at the consultation appealed "to the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to immediately stop the ongoing military operations to ensure safe passage arranged by credible and neutral agencies for those who are trapped in the war zone".
The LTTE should "facilitate safe conduct for the people who want to leave such areas and refrain from any form of forced conscription, of both children and others," the statement urges. Meanwhile, the Sri Lankan government is called to "allow international and national agencies to address and assist the persons in camps and in the conflict areas."
While the country faces a "humanitarian crisis exceeding all imaginable proportions," it is up to the government to initiate "talks with all concerned and also to present an outline of a political formula with a view to finding a lasting solution to the issues behind the conflict," the statement says.
"As the CCA's Asia Sunday – which will be observed this year on 15 May – will have a special focus on Sri Lanka, the consultation has called churches from all over the world to join in prayer for peace in Sri Lanka on that occasion," says WCC programme executive for Asia Dr Mathews George Chunakara.
The International Consultation on Peace, Security and Development in South Asia took place in Bangalore, India, from 30 March to 2 April 2009. It gathered some sixty participants, mostly South Asian church and ecumenical leaders, together with representatives from member churches of the WCC, the CCA and the SACC, as well as ecumenical development and relief and humanitarian aid agencies from the region, Europe and North America.