Indian priest calls for peace in Sri Lanka

May 5, 1999

Indian priest calls for peace in Sri Lanka

By Nadeem Ansari

CANBERRA — The Reverend Jegath Gaspar Raj told a public meeting here on April 28 that war in Sri Lanka has brought misery to the Tamil people and has polarised the Tamil and Sinhalese communities. The meeting was organised by the Friends for Peace in Sri Lanka.

Raj, from Tamil Nadu, is the coordinator of the Tamil language program on Radio Veritas Asia, run by the Federation of Asian Bishops in the Philippines. Raj mentioned that Sri Lankan Tamils listen to his program because they do not trust the Sri Lankan media. He receives around 1500 letters per month from the north and east of Sri Lanka.

He said that these letters reflect a true picture of the miserable conditions of Tamils in the north. In one letter, a former medical student wrote, "Death comes to all people, but we Tamils ... are living with death". He said that these letters also show that why Tamil are united in fighting for their demand of a separate nation.

Raj said that there are 800,000 refugees in the north of Sri Lanka, which the government is blockading. There is no dynamic economy, and food supplied by the government is sufficient for only 20% of the people. Reporters from the radio in this region report that 14-17 children are dying daily because of hunger and disease.

War has created an atmosphere of hatred between the Tamil and Sinhalese communities, Raj said. Until 1996, he received letters from some Tamil people which showed concern over the casualties of Sri Lankan troops, but now, because of Tamils' suffering, their letters display the language of revenge.

The war is also ruining the Sinhalese community. The Sri Lankan economy is collapsing due to the war, resulting in cuts to public services such as education and health.

Raj said that the human crises in Sri Lanka should be addressed through realising the political needs of the Tamil community, not through military repression. The Sri Lankan government should stop treating Tamils as second- or third-class citizens. The economic blockade in the north of Sri Lanka should be lifted to help relieve the massive suffering of the Tamil community.

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