VATICAN CITY (CNS): A local Caritas director was seriously injured in fighting in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Vanni region, where tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced recently.
Caritas director Vanni-Hudec Fr T R Vasanthaseelan had to have one leg amputated after shells struck St Anthony Church in Valaignarmadam on April 23. Many civilians had sought safety in the church.
According to Caritas Internationalis headquarters in Rome, National Commission for Justice, Peace and Human Development member Fr James Pathinathan also was injured and was taken to a hospital in Anuradhapura.
Caritas is an international confederation of Catholic relief, development and social service organisations.
Caritas Internationalis Secretary-General Lesley-Anne Knight expressed concern for the people of Vanni and the Church personnel working there.
“That aid workers are suffering only underlines how innocent people, women and children are being killed and injured in Sri Lanka’s civil war and reinforces our calls for an immediate cease-fire.
“Both the government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tiger rebels have obligations to protect the lives of civilians and allow humanitarian access. The United Nations and the international community must hold them to these commitments.”
Caritas Internationalis said it had launched an appeal to provide emergency assistance to the war victims, including those made homeless by the fighting, returnees and war-affected families, especially women and children.
The rebel group launched an independence struggle against the Sinhalese-led Government in 1983; since then the war has killed about 80,000 people and displaced more than a million.
A UN report estimates that nearly 6500 rebels have been killed and 14,000 wounded in the past three months of fighting.
When Government troops broke through rebel positions near a previously declared no-fire zone in late April, more than 100,000 civilians fled the area, according to Vatican Radio.
The Sri Lankan Government said on April 27 it would stop using heavy weapons and airstrikes in the war zone to prevent further civilian casualties.