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Vatican enters Lankan peace process

That the Papal Establishment is going to play a role in Lanka was indicated in the statement it issued after a meeting between the Pope and President Rajapaksa, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Apr 22, 2007 13:08 IST

The Vatican is the latest entrant in the Sri Lankan peace process. That the Papal Establishment is going to play a role in Sri Lanka was indicated in the statement it issued after a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in Rome on April 20.

"The Catholic Church, which offers a significant contribution to the life of the country, will intensify the commitment to form consciences, with the sole aim of favouring the common good, reconciliation and peace," the Vatican said.

And the very next day, its Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Apostolic Nuncio Mario Zenari, visited the war-ravaged Batticaloa district in Eastern Sri Lanka, which is now home to 143,000 Tamil refugees.

Sources in Batticaloa told Hindustan Times on Sunday that the Catholic establishment there briefed him about the deteriorating human rights situation with abductions and killings going on "frequently" though there had been a reduction lately.

Ambassador Zenari did not meet the press, but sources said that he visited four refugee camps and told the inmates that he would take up their problems with the government in Colombo, brief Vatican, and discuss the issues personally with the Pope during his next visit to Rome.

According to the Vatican communiqué, the Pope told President Rajapaksa that in the light of the current situation in Sri Lanka, there was a need to respect human rights and restart negotiations, as this was the only way to put an end to the violence that had "bloodied the island".

The Pope had described the escalation in violence as being "dramatic."

Even prior to Rajapaksa's visit, the Pope had shown a special concern about the Sri Lankan situation when he singled out the country for mention in his Easter message. He had said that the need of the moment was peace and that only a negotiated solution could put an end to the conflict.

Diplomatic circles in Colombo say that it was at the Sri Lankan President's initiative that the meeting with the Pope had taken place.

Southern Sri Lankans, especially the majority Sinhala-Buddhists, point out that while the Catholic Church in the Tamil-speaking North-East is ever ready to highlight the government's acts of omission and commission, there is deafening silence on the misdeeds and terrorist acts of the LTTE.

Rajapaksa told the Pope that his government did not believe in a military solution and that it was the LTTE which had consistently walked away from talks. If military action was taking place it was only to contain LTTE's terrorism, he explained.

On the human rights issue, he reiterated his commitment and pointed out that it was the LTTE which had created the food shortage in Jaffna by banning wholesale and retail trade last year. As regards a political solution he said that his party would be offering its political proposals "shortly".

Given the differing perceptions between Colombo and the Vatican on the ground situation, political circles here wonder if Rajapaksa's bid to get Rome on board and the Vatican's bid to play a reconciliatory role will succeed.

To add to the problems, Rajapaksa's main political constituency, the Sinhala-Buddhist majority, nurses a deep fear about the organisational tentacles, money power and reach of global Christianity, including the Vatican.