Caritas: Sri Lanka Needs to Look Toward the Future

Calls for Justice for All Citizens

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, MAY 19, 2009 ( A decades-long war has come to an end in Sri Lanka, but Caritas says there are still steps to be taken before the nation can declare peace.

Fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels ended today in Sri Lanka; Velupillai Prabhakaran, the legendary rebel leader of the Tigers, is said to be among those killed.

But Caritas Internationalis has called for three more steps before the nation starts considering itself at peace: improving the conditions for those living in camps after being displaced by the war; resettling those made homeless and helping them rebuild their lives; and bringing about a climate of justice that meets the needs of all Sri Lankans, which would include those of the 18% Tamil minority.

The international aid agency reported that humanitarian workers have strictly limited access to the more than 250,000 people living in camps. «That must change,» a Caritas statement affirmed, calling on the government to ensure access to food, clean water and security.

Caritas reported that the camps do not meet international standards on security and living conditions, and traumatized families remain divided. Those who have been forced to flee their homes must be allowed to return, the agency added.

«We need to see an urgent improvement in the conditions in the camps,» Caritas Sri Lanka Executive Director Father Damian Fernando said after visiting the areas. «People in them don’t have the food, medical supplies, and the security they need. Although Caritas is able to provide food and other aid, we need to be able to operate with greater freedom so that all needs are met. Families must be reunited.

«The government needs to take the initiative to speed up its plans to resettle the people in the camps back to their homes. Many have been moved 10 times in the course of the fighting. They’re deeply traumatized and have gone through unimaginable horrors. Once home, they’ll need support in rebuilding their lives.»

Father Fernando said Caritas welcomes the end of the fighting, but affirmed, «We will never have a just peace in Sri Lanka however without the needs of all its people being addressed. Every Sri Lankan must have an equal right to development, freedom of expression and safety. Caritas will do all it can to bring about reconciliation through its peace building activities. All sides must now overcome divisions and look to a future built on coexistence.»

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