Sri Lankan government declines Catholic-Anglican call for Christmas ceasefire

Despite appeals from Catholic and Anglican bishops, the Sri Lankan government on Thursday said it will not declare a ceasefire for Christmas.

A Wednesday statement from bishops of both Churches asked the government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to declare a truce during Christmas and the New Year.

"We are now approaching Christmas, a world festival of peace. At this time many Christians and even persons of other faiths will be encouraged by the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace, to review and strengthen relationships," the statement said, according to the Sri Lankan Daily News.

"It is consequently expected that family ties will be renewed, communities will gather for fellowship, strangers will be welcomed, the marginalized included and the oppressed set free.

"Where relationships are strained or hostile it is expected that dividing walls will come down and healing will take place through forgiveness and reconciliation."

The statement was signed by Thomas Savundranayagam, the Catholic Bishop of Jaffna; Rayappa Joseph, Catholic Bishop of Mannar; Norbert Andradi, Catholic Bishop of Anuradhapura; Kumara Ilangasinghe, Anglican Bishop of Kurunegala; and Duleep de Chickera, Anglican Bishop of Colombo.

"It is this spirit of Christmas that compels us as Christian leaders of the country to urge the GoSL and the LTTE to declare a truce to include Christmas and the New Year," the bishops wrote, urging that there be no fighting or troop movement during the truce.

"Such an initiative will be seen the world over as a sign of political maturity and generosity," they said, calling on the government to take the lead in making the truce.

The peace would bring "immense relief" to civilians in LTTE controlled areas, the bishops said.

"It will also enable the Christians of these areas to worship and engage in their religious practices with less anxiety, as well as bring some respite to the war weary soldiers and cadres and some peace of mind to their parents and loved ones."

The bishops also appealed to both parties to "seriously consider" establishing safe zones for civilians, advising that religious leaders may help such a process.

"We are of the opinion that this war must stop, but till that happens such, an arrangement will demonstrate our respect for humanity and save some innocent lives from further trauma or even death.

"We can and must assert that it is possible to care for people even in times of war," they continued. "Nothing should prevent us from our highest priority of enabling life and safeguarding humanity.

"May the Peace of Christ fill our hearts and nation," the Catholic and Anglican bishops prayed, according to the Sri Lankan Daily News.

On Thursday, Media Center for National Security (MCNS) Director Lakshman Hulugalla told the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror that the government stated that it would go in for a ceasefire only if the Tigers laid down their arms. Till then there will be no decision of a ceasefire."

Fighting continues in the north of Sri Lanka. The military has vowed to capture the town of Killinochchi, a rebel stronghold. The rebels claim the army suffered a great defeat in its last attempt to take the town.

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