Church leaders in Sri Lanka are seeking to reconcile the island nation's majority Sinhalese Buddhist community and the predominantly Hindu Tamil minority, two groups that have been in violent conflict for nearly two decades.

With the approval of the government, church leaders recently led a group of two dozen religious officials—including 18 Sinhalese Buddhist monks—to what are called "uncleared areas" under the control of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, or Tamil Tigers). The group held secret talks on February 18 with senior LTTE leaders at the Madhu Church in northern Sri Lanka.

The minority Tamils, less than 20 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 19 million, are concentrated in eastern and northern areas. The Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority occupies the south. More than 65,000 people have been killed since 1983 in skirmishes between these two groups, one of Asia's bloodiest ethnic conflicts.

"We will do all that we can to facilitate peace," said Anglican Bishop Kenneth Fernando of Colombo, an active member of the Inter Religious Alliance for National Unity.

Meanwhile, one Christian was seriously injured and 35 were hospitalized on February 18 when about 100 Buddhist extremists wielding machetes assaulted the Sanasum Sevana (New Life) Christian Center in Nurwarawatte, near Hinguragoda, about 130 miles northeast of Colombo.

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