Churches face tough task of building peace after bloody Sri Lanka war

By Ecumenical News International
May 21, 2009

Sri Lankan church leaders say the end of the country's 26-year civil war announced by the government is a signal to address grievances and to ensure citizens from all ethnic and religious groups can feel part of their nation - writes Anto Akkara.

The island nation's President, Mahinda Rajapaksa declared, on 19 May 2009, the end of the bloody and protracted civil war in which fighters seeking autonomy for the country's minority Tamil population introduced to the world the concept of suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their bodies. The government's military assault and tactics were also placed under global scrutiny.

Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera said, "We must become a nation in which every woman, man and child, regardless of religion or ethnicity is made to feel equal, free and proud to call themselves Sri Lankan. Now is the time … to take prayerful, purposeful and collective steps towards an integrated, united and just Sri Lanka that has eluded us for decades."

The process, Chickera said, "must begin with our children, and in our schools, [Buddhist] temples, kovils [Hindu temples], mosques and churches."

Colombo's Roman Catholic Arbishhop Oswald Gomis added, "In a sense we could say that we have won the battle but the war is not ended."

He noted, "The war will end only on the day that we grow into nationhood realising that we are all one people in one country with equal rights. We have to realise the fact that we are a multiethnic, multi-religious and multicultural community. As such we are now left with the great task of nation-building, forgetting our ethnic, political and religious differences."

Gomis added, "It is imperative that there be a political formula that will inspire confidence and promote a sense of belonging among the minority groups in the country … All of us have to share the blame for our division and forgive each other. We should have the humility and wisdom to learn from the sad experiences of that past."

The government said it had ended the war when it showed what it said was the body of the rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran, who founded the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the mid-1970s.

Known as the Tamil Tigers, the LTTE waged a fierce campaign for autonomy for the ethnic Tamil community. The rebels maintained control of Tamil-majority areas in the north and east of the Indian Ocean island for decades.

The struggle became a civil war in 1983 and more than 80,000 lives were lost in the conflict which was brought to an end by the Sri Lankan forces under the command of President Rajapaksa on 18 May, defeating the last of the Tigers near Mullaitive on the east coast.

To forge national unity, Bishop Chickera said, "We will be required to address the grievances of all communities, eliminate social fear and suspicion [and] restore the people's confidence in law and order."

The rebel movement was widely seen as the product of discrimination meted out to the Tamil-speaking minority who account for about 18 percent of Sri Lanka's 21 million people of whom 7.1 percent are Hindus.

Many among the Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority, accounting for 74 percent of the population of Sri Lanka, are said to staunchly believe that Buddhism should enjoy supremacy in the island.

Of Sri Lanka's people, 7.6 percent are Muslims and 6.2 percent are Christians.

With 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.]

Keywords:tamil | sri lanka
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