Sri Lanka War Not Over Until Unity Achieved, Says Bishop

The battle is won, but the war is not over, says Colombo's top Catholic Bishop after Sri Lanka's Government this week declared an end to the 25-year civil war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.

The Archbishop of Colombo, Oswald Gomis, celebrated Colombo's defeat of the once feared insurgent group, but said much needs to be done for the unity and welfare of the people.

He offered his "deepest sympathies to those who laid down their lives in battle and those innocent civilians killed, trapped in war."

The war between the government and Tamil Tigers has left 80,000 to 100,000 people dead and 265,000 Tamil civilians displaced.

The war, says Archbishop Gomis, will end "only on the day that we grow in nationhood realizing that we are all one people in one country with equal rights."

"We have to realize the fact that we are a multi­ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural community. As such we are now left with the great task of nation- building forgetting our ethnic, political and religious differences."

He urged people to "leave the sad and bitter memories of the past three decades and look positively and optimistically towards the future in hope."

"All of us have to share the blame for our division and forgive each other. We should have the humility and wisdom to learn from the sad experiences of that past," he noted.

This, he suggested, will "build nationhood that will bring true peace and prosperity" to Sri Lanka.

The head of Sri Lankan Catholic bishops' conference (CBCSL) also agrees that war will be over only after the island overcomes the ethnic divisions.

The celebrations will be more meaningful when "we are able to overcome our prejudices and live together as one people," said CBCSL president, Joseph Vianney Fernando.

Fernando said he was happy to hear the president say "the word 'minority' will be removed from our dictionary."

Even Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera feels the need for unity among the Tamils and the Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority in the aftermath of the brutal war.

"Now is the time … to take prayerful, purposeful and collective steps towards an integrated, united and just Sri Lanka that has eluded us for decades," he said.

Sri Lanka's president declared victory in a speech on Tuesday, affirming the deaths of LTTE chief Velupillai Prabakaran, his son Charles Anthony and several other senior cadres.

"Our motherland has been completely liberated from separatist terrorism," he said, declaring Wednesday a national holiday.

With hundreds of thousands uprooted by the war, however, the country faces a humanitarian crisis. The secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, is scheduled to visit the island nation on Friday to assess the humanitarian situation.