Sri Lankan Prelate Warns of Landmine Threat

Calls for Rehabilitation of Child Solidiers

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, DEC. 2, 2009 (Zenit.org).- After the Sri Lankan government’s decision to send refugees home, the archbishop of Colombo is warning about the danger of landmines that may greet these displaced persons.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith stated this Tuesday in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, in which he responded to the government’s announcement that same day of its plans to send some 136,000 Tamil refugees home from the overcrowded camps.

The refugees have been living in these makeshift shelters since the fighting between the government and the Tamil Tiger rebels, which ended in May, drove them from their homes in the north of the country.

The aid agency noted that these government-run camps held up to 300,000 refugees at the height of the conflict.

The prelate protested, however, that action is needed before the displaced persons can return home.

He affirmed: «Some of the places where the Tamils are returning are heavily land-mined. They may get injured or worse.»

Under pressure

The archbishop continued, «The international community will scold us for sending them to their deaths so we must ensure that there are no landmines there.»

He called on the international community to support this effort, noting that the «pressure is on» for the government also to «act fast.»

«The international community should help Sri Lanka to de-mine the area as quickly as they can and help rebuild the infrastructure — rebuild the roads, repair the railways and get things back to normal,» Archbishop Ranjith asserted.

He also appealed for the Tamil refugees to have a political voice, stating, «Through local politics they should be able to represent their own areas.»

«Perhaps the government should give them more than just a provincial council so that they can have more of a say in their own areas,» the prelate added.

He recalled the needs of the 10,000 child soldiers who had been recruited by the rebel forces, and are currently «in severe need of therapy and reconciliation work.»

The archbishop affirmed: «We must ensure that those people — former child soldiers — are rehabilitated and healed. They are now being trained to go back to normal life but it will take time.»

Two-sided

It is important to realize that this decades-long war involves wrongdoing on both sides, he said.

Archbishop Ranjith continued: «This is not a situation where you can say one side is a sinner and another side is a saint. Both are sinners. Both have made mistakes.

«What religious leaders need to do is to encourage the government in Sri Lanka to solve this through a political solution. We cannot go back to violence.»

«In order to create a new Sri Lanka,» he affirmed, «all religious leaders must get people to live their religious values as nobly as possible.»

«If people believed in their religions as they should, we would never have had so much violence and death,» the prelate stated.

The war between the Tamils and Sinhalese could have been avoided, he asserted, if both groups had withstood the radical forces within their communities.

«A little bit of readiness to compromise on entrenched positions could have made a lot of difference,» the archbishop said.

He concluded: «Even we [the Church] tried to bring the two sides to some kind of sanity but they would not listen to us. This was a problem that could have been solved long ago.»

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