Sri Lanka Bishops Speak Out on Civil War

A group of Sri Lankan bishops spoke out against the escalating violence between the government and a rebel group in the north that recently killed 52 civilians within a day.

"[There is] a real danger that the rate of civilian casualties could increase even more," warned the joint statement signed by the Anglican Bishop of Colombo, the Rt. Rev. Duleep de Chickera, and other Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, according to U.K.-based Church Times.

The killing of civilians is a "cause for serious regret, and cannot be justified in any war, especially in a war amongst the people of the same country," they said in a statement released last week.

"We also appeal to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) that the presence of trapped civilians should not be used to gain military advantage," the five faith leaders stated. "There should be no restriction of the civilians' right to life and movement."

Sri Lanka has struggled for two decades with a civil war that officially ended with a Cease Fire Agreement signed between the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE on Feb. 2, 2002. However, both sides have failed to follow through on their promises, throwing the country back into escalated violence since the end of 2005 despite peace process mediation by Norway and the international community.

The LTTE says it is fighting to create a separate country for the 3.1 million ethnic minority Tamils, who face discrimination in Sri Lanka.

According to the United Nations, some 70,000 people have been killed and 465,000 were displaced by the conflict. Of the displaced, more than 282,000 were uprooted since fighting intensified in April 2006.

Civilians escaping the war zone are currently in urgent need of shelter and food aid.

U.K.-based Christian Aid is supporting its local partners in Sri Lanka who are working with displaced Sri Lankans to meet their immediate needs. Its humanitarian partners are providing food, extra clothing, medicine and hygiene kits to the displaced.

On Tuesday, the U.N. refugee agency said it was "outraged by the unnecessary loss of hundreds of lives and the continued suffering of innocent civilians" in the rebel territory," according to The Associated Press. The U.N. agency urged both parties to stay away from the government-designated "safe zone" where many civilians are reportedly killed.