|Catholic Bishops Conference clarifies...
The Catholic Bishops conference Friday said they raised conscription of child soldiers, the import of arms, the capture and detention of two soldiers and the observance of hartal on the first anniversary of the MoU, when they met LTTE political leader S. P. Thamilselvan early this week.
A statement of the conference said: "As agreed at the plenary meeting of the conference in December 2002 the Catholic Bishops undertook the goodwill mission to the North especially to the dioceses of Jaffna and Mannar. The purpose of the visit was to meet with the clergy, the religious, and the lay faithful on an essentially pastoral mission to promote reconciliation and cordial good relations. The possibility of a visit became a reality with the opening of the A9 route to Jaffna. Its closure has so far impeded free travel between the two destinations and has thus prevented frequent contact between the groups of the two dioceses. The visit also happily coincided with the first anniversary of the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement (MoU).
Since the Bishops were taking such an eventful journey they also decided to meet some of the important persons connected with the peace effort, especially with a view to promoting peace and possible dispelling of centain misapprehensions that have arisen due to some happerings in the recent past. The Bishops thought it fit to apprise the LTTE leadership of the concerns of the South in this regard.
Accordingly the Bishops met with the political leader of the LTTE S. P. Tamilselvan at Kilinochchi. The main points brought to the notice of the LTTE were the conscription of child soldiers, the import of arms, the capture and detention of two soldiers of the Sri Lankan Army, the observance of hartal on the occasion of the first anniversary celebration of the MoU. The Bishops expressed their joy about the signing of the ceasefire agreement and thanked the LTTE for their initial commitment to pursue a political solution to the present crisis.
The LTTE leadership expressed their own satisfaction with what was happening in the direction of peace and attempted to explain their point of view as regards the above-mentioned matters. They were emphatic especially in remarking that while there was a peaceful atmosphere now prevailing in the South and North has not yet returned to normalcy in life. They mentioned especially the sufferings of the displaced persons who are longing to return to their homes to begin normal life. They explained that the hartal was not a protest against the peace process nor an attempt to sabotage it but was meant to give this message to the South of the dissatisfaction about the lack of normalcy yet, in the North. The Bishops then pointed out that this effort was more counter productive than otherwise in the South.
The political leader emphasized their concern about the lack of consensus among the Southern political leadership on the matter of peace negotiations. They added that a consensus at the highest levels on this crucial matter was imperative to finding a permanent solution to this vital issue.
In answer to a direct question raised by the Bishops the political leader assured that they were fully committed to a negotiated settlement and would pursue the path of peace until a political solution was reached. He also said that the LTTE were satisfied with the present proceedings and were hopeful that this would help bring peace to the country.
In Jaffna the Bishops met with the clergy and the religious of the diocese of Jaffna. The discussion highlighted the need to work for reconciliation between the peoples of the North and the South towards the achievement of this objective the group felt the need to set up teams from among both groups. The Bishops will work out plans towards further steps to be taken in this regard.
The Bishops then attended the blessing of the new chapel of Blessed Joseph Vaz the Apostle of Sri Lanka at Kottady-Pannai. The Bishops were welcomed by a large crowd of devotees and led to the shrine for the blessing. The Bishops also visited a number of displaced persons within the Jaffna peninsula.
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