Sri Lankan bishops in peace talks with rebels

 The Catholic bishops of Sri Lanka have gone into a rebel-controlled zone to meet the leader of the political wing of the Tamil Tigers - S.P. Thamil Chelvan. The Bishops' visit is part of a long-term process, supported by CAFOD, at building reconciliation between the divided communities in Sri Lanka. Their mission followed an end to a four-month long rebel ceasefire. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) said the truce had become unsustainable in the face of government aggression and apathy from the international community. CAFOD's Sri Lankan program officer, Steve Alston, said that the agency's partners in the war-hit region, in Jaffna and Mannar, all desire peace. He said Sri Lankans living in other parts of the country, who called on the government to reciprocate the unilateral ceasefire of the LTTE, are equally disappointed by the government's refusal to do so. He warned that the stage is now set for an increase in hostilities that will obviously lead to further humanitarian disasters. Steve Alston said: "The continued loss of life and terror experienced by the people of that region is a blight on the development of Sri Lanka. The end of the truce shows the need for the international community to give much higher priority to the peace process of the Norwegian government." The LTTE are among a number of groups banned under new UK legislation introduced earlier this year. Alston said: "Their banning in the UK is cited as one of the reasons given by the LTTE for recommencing its offensive." The National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, a CAFOD partner, said peace negotiations between the government and the rebels must continue. In a statement the NPC said: "We regret very much the ending of the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire after four months without a positive response to it from the government and the outbreak of bloody fighting in the Jaffna peninsula once again. "The NPC calls on the government and LTTE to enter into peace talks immediately without letting unilaterally determined issues of pre-conditions or seeking the military upper hand delay them. "Now that the LTTE's unilateral ceasefire has ended, we see a great need and an opportunity for the Norwegian facilitators to broker a mutually accepted de-escalation of hostilities and peace talks that could lead to a just solution that the people of Jaffna and elsewhere yearn for." source: CAFOD The civil war in Sri Lanka began 17 years ago. To find earlier ICN stories on this subject use our search facility.

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