Two Churches Attacked in Sri Lanka

Friday, January 27, 2006

Threats from Buddhists continue amid tensions between government and Tamil rebels.

by Sarah Page

DUBLIN, January 26 (Compass) – Two churches in Sri Lanka were attacked last weekend as threats from Buddhist monks continued amid tensions between the government and Tamil rebels.

Last Sunday (January 22), a mob of roughly 500 people, including 20 Buddhist monks and a Catholic priest, made threats as they demonstrated outside an Assembly of God (AOG) church in Bolaththa, Gampaha district, just north of Colombo.

Carrying placards and shouting threats, the mob demanded that the church cease services and promised to return the following weekend if another service is held, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) reported.

On Monday, some in the mob returned and stoned the pastor’s house, which forms part of the church building, breaking windows. When the pastor lodged a complaint, police promised to carry out a regular safety check on the building. When the police showed up yesterday, however, they asked the pastor to come to the police station for “discussions” on Saturday.

Police have said they will protect the church this Sunday (January 29). But as a spokesman from NCEASL pointed out, the police cannot guard the premises every Sunday, and a more permanent solution must be found.

Home Invasion

In an incident involving another church with a built-in house, on Saturday (January 21) a group of 20 men brandishing rods and sticks walked into the home of an AOG pastor in Alpitiya, Galle district, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka.

The pastor’s wife was at home with only her three young children, nursing the youngest in her bedroom, when the men walked in. The intruders issued an ultimatum, demanding that the pastor and his wife cease all Christian activities, including worship services, in the town.

The men knocked over a table, chairs and other furniture and threatened to destroy all of the family’s belongings if these demands were not met.

The police were alerted, and the service on January 22 was held with police protection.

A spokesman from NCEASL said churches were still being attacked or threatened almost weekly, although the pressure was not as “intense” as it was last year.

A Buddhist campaign to close churches and pass anti-conversion laws, however, is on hold due to rising tension between the government of newly-elected President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The Tigers still want an independent homeland in the north. Prior to his election in November, however, Rajapakse said he did not support complete autonomy for the rebels.

Sri Lankans fear the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement signed in February 2002. The agreement, brokered by the Norwegian government, ended two decades of bitter fighting between government and LTTE forces that claimed an estimated 60,000 lives.

Peace talks between both parties broke off in January 2004 and have not resumed.

Random killings and attacks have occurred almost daily since the elections in November, resulting in some 135 deaths, according to a report in the South Asian Intelligence Review on January 16.

In one of the most shocking attacks, a Tamil member of parliament, Joseph Pararajasingham, was shot dead while attending midnight mass at a church in Batticaloa last Christmas Eve, the BBC reported.

On Tuesday (January 24), Rajapakse met with Erik Solheim, a Norwegian envoy who had traveled to Sri Lanka to assist in emergency peace negotiations.

That evening, five small explosions were reported at various locations in Colombo between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. There were no casualties in the blasts.

Solheim met with LTTE leaders yesterday to discuss, among other things, a neutral venue for resuming peace talks.

Copyright 2006 Compass Direct