The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Colombo, Nicolas Marcus Fernando, has made yet another call for peaceful settlement to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka.

"Sri Lanka has been destroying itself with its unresolved ethnic problem and unceasing political violence," Archbishop Fernando declared in a February 4 message to mark Sri Lanka's 52nd anniversary. In an interview with Ecumenical News International (ENI) he insisted that it was the political leaders and agitators who were divided by the ethnic conflict, but not the people. He held up the Catholic community as an example of peaceful coexistence.

Since 1983 the nation's politics have been dominated by the conflict between the Sinhala majority—who live mainly in the southern part of the island and account for three-quarters of Sri Lanka's 18 million citizens—and the Tamil minority, based in the north.

In May 1983 the government in Colombo, the capital, declared a state of emergency after serious communal conflict. The state of emergency has been routinely extended to counter the violence by Tamil guerrillas who want a separate Tamil state—known as Eelam—in the northern and eastern provinces.

So far, 50,000 to 150,000 people have reportedly died in fighting between the guerrillas and the Sri Lankan army which is trying to crush the Tamil rebel movement led by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), also known as Tamil Tigers. The violence also led to the assassination, in a bomb attack, of President Ranasinghe Premadasa in 1993. Archbishop Fernando said that one of the most urgent needs facing Sri Lanka was to "rid this country of the ongoing costly war that is bleeding us to a slow and painful death."

He urged Sri Lankans, and Catholics in particular, to support the efforts ...

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