Hundreds Of Sri Lanka Christians Escape Rebel Kidnappers, Government Says

Thursday, November 16, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (BosNewsLife) -- Over 800 Tamil Christians including children, were on their way home Wednesday, November 15, after escaping from Tamil rebels who kidnapped them in August amid ongoing fighting with Sri Lanka's security forces, government officials claimed.

They were abducted by members of the rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) apparently "because they were Christians" said Sri Lanka's state-run Media Center For National Security, linked to the Ministry of Defence.

The LTTE, also known as the Tamil Tigers, has been fighting for an independent homeland for Tamil-majority regions within Sri Lanka. The Christians were apparently detained by LTTE fighters while on their way to a Catholic shrine on the island of Mannar, a predominantly Catholic area. There was no immediate reaction from the LTTE.

The Media Center For National Security said 595 Christians "forced their way to freedom" by beating the rebels and toppling their barricades on Monday, November 13.

They managed to reach Sri Lanka's national security forces based in the Ulsimkulam area on the island of Mannar, who handed them over to the International Red Cross. Another group of 262 Christians, including 54 children, who were also kidnapped in August, arrived separately in the same area. It was not immediately clear how they had managed to escape.


All of them received food and lodging in the nearby St. Sebastian Church before the army and aid workers were able to provide transport for them to return home, government officials said in remarks seen by BosNewsLife.

Human rights watchers say however that both rebels and Sri Lanka's security forces are responsible for attacks against Christians who they claim are increasingly in the cross fire as the country seems to move towards all-out civil war.

Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity battling against religious persecution, said it was particularly concerned about Christians acing a humanitarian crisis in the Jaffna peninsula where land, air and sea communications have been blocked as part of the Sri Lankan government efforts to cut off supplies to the rebels.

Among those detained there was 34-year-old Jaffna priest Jim Brown, who disappeared at the end of summer and whom local church leaders now presume is dead. Prior to his disappearance, Brown’s church was reportedly targeted by government forces who suspected that rebel forces had infiltrated the crowds taking refuge there.


About 3,000 troops, civilians and rebel fighters have been killed this year amid the worst fighting since a now tattered 2002 ceasefire, which ordinary Sri Lankans fear could snowball into a return to a conflict that killed more than 67,000 people since 1983.

Since last week thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees fled their camp in rebel territory in the island's east after the Sri Lankan army bombed the location killing dozens of civilians, including Christians and infants. The LTTE responded and killed several soldiers, news reports said.

The intensified fighting between rebels and Sri Lankan forces is not the only problem faced by the country's Christian minority. Church leaders say Buddhist militants have continued their campaign, attacking churches and threatening Christian schools. Protestant and Roman Catholic schools in and around Colombo have reportedly received letters demanding that they cancel all Christmas programs, while at least one Assembly of God church was ordered to cease all services.

Christians comprise over 6 percent of Sri Lanka's predominantly Buddhist population of roughly 20 million people. (With reports from Sri Lanka).

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