A leading Bishop in north Sri Lanka has said more needs to be done to clear the former war zone so that people in the camps can return home.
In a letter to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Spiteri, Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna said that the pace of resettlement needs to be increased.
He said, “We and the Army men here, too [in the north], are of the opinion that the resettlement should go faster and some pressure must be exerted by the Religious, Foreign Missions and the Government MPs to accelerate the process. The Government Agent alone is helpless.”
The bishop continued, “The people are anxiously waiting in the Cheddikulam Camps for the day they will be taken to the above places to the East of A9 road [Elephant Pass].”
His comments come after he visited the former war zone to assess the state of church buildings last month.
As those who were displaced during last year’s civil conflict in Sri Lanka are slowly beginning to return home, Bishop Savundaranayagam undertook a fact-finding mission to examine the state of churches, convents and other church buildings in the former war zones.
On the 29th of January the army escorted the bishop’s group to Puthukudiyiruppu village while making brief visits to the churches on the way. Once in the village he met the commander of the Sri-Lankan Special Forces.
Bishop Savundaranayagam reported that the area’s main church, St. Joseph’s, is in a bad condition after the fighting.
The bishop wrote in his letter: “It was the same with the Mission House and the R.C. school. Since this village had been the centre of LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] activities and had been under them for a long time, fierce fighting had taken place.”
“Not a single house has been spared and the whole place with broken Coconut and fallen Palmyrah trees was a scene of devastation.”
He added: “We were taken to other churches also (St. Sebastian, Infant Jesus, Holy Face, etc.) and most of them had their roofs blown off and the statues broken and Mass things strewn all over. With the rains, jungle-shrubs had overgrown everywhere.”
The group was surprised to find that the army also allowed the clerics to visit Iranaipalai, the former stronghold of the LTTE. The Church of Fatima in Iranaipalai had been damaged by artillery fire, and there were many abandoned civilian vehicles in the streets.
Bishop Savundaranayagam said: “Both sides had fought hard – irresponsible of the civilians’ lives.”
The bishop also visited the no-fire zone, Mathalan, where 100,000 people had taken refuge on a narrow strip of land during the last stage of the war.
“This had been the scene of death for thousands of soldiers, militants as well as the fleeing poor civilians,” he said.
As well as assessing the state of the badly damaged church, the bishop described seeing evidence of how people had fled for their lives.
He wrote: “We saw in an open place thousands of push cycles heaped up .They were left behind by the fleeing people at the last moment. Similarly we saw the sight of thousands of motor-cycles, cars, lorries all rusting in the open air.”
He reported only meeting soldiers in this part of the country.
The group also visited Mullaithivu, Vadamarachchi East, and the settlements between Nagar Kovil and Chundikulam. Extensive reconstruction of church buildings will be required after people have been resettled.
During last year’s conflict, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, dispatched over $68,000 in emergency aid for Sri Lanka.