Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Catholics, Methodists 'picket' with powdered milk packets


This item comes from UCAN, the Union of Catholic Asian News.


Matt Guynn
On Earth Peace

UCAN: Catholics, Methodists 'picket' with powdered milk packets

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (UCAN)  Wearing black "Stop Starvation" headbands, Catholic and Methodist priests and laypeople recently overran the main post office here to draw attention to what they called a "humanitarian crisis" in Jaffna.

On Nov. 8, about 150 members of Negombo People's Collective for a Political Solution, a church-based group, crowded the Colombo General Post Office, armed not with signs but with 400-gram packets of powdered infant formula.

Some protesters stood outside, while others mailed 500 packets of formula to Jaffna, about 300 kilometers (about 190 miles) north of Colombo.

Father Terrance Fernando told UCA News the protesters "picketed" the post office from 11 a.m.  until 1:30 p.m., when all the formula had been packed and sent.  The group included seven Catholic priests and three Methodist pastors.

Their aim, said the parish priest of St.  Anne's Church in Palangaturai, Negombo, was to "stop the starvation of Jaffna people." He called for people to "see the real humanitarian crisis." Negombo is a predominantly Catholic town about 30 kilometers (about 20 miles) north of the capital.

The main road to Jaffna, located on the peninsula at the northern tip of the island, has been closed due to fighting between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).  With the road closed, the only way to get supplies to Jaffna is by sea or air.

The prices of essential commodities there have shot up, according to Father Fernando, who expressed concern about the "hunger of the people."

His parishioners helped collect the infant formula to send to Jaffna "to tell the government that the lives of the people living there should return to normalcy soon," he said.  "And we wanted to respond to the appeal of the bishop of Jaffna."

Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam of Jaffna appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in a Nov.  2 letter to take quick action to remedy the increasing shortage of food and the plight of the people living on the Jaffna peninsula.  The bishop called on the president to open the road to the mainland and ensure adequate food for local people.

A layperson in Jaffna, Anthony Rasiah, told UCA News that food is expensive, with people having to pay 400 rupees (US$4) for a kilogram of rice and 500 rupees for 400 grams of infant formula.

The mailed packets of formula cost 150 rupees each, plus about seven rupees to mail.

They were sent to the bishop's house for Bishop Savundaranayagam to distribute among the needy, Freddy Gamage, one of the protesters, told UCA News.  "Sending this milk powder to north and the silent picket demonstrated our solidarity with the people living in North," he said.

Gamage added that the group is planning to send more formula and other dry rations to Jaffna during the coming weeks.

Some Catholic priests, nuns and Methodist pastors told UCA News they joined the demonstration to show their solidarity with and help people in the north, who they said face starvation.

The population in northern Sri Lanka and some eastern areas is predominantly Tamil, while Sinhalese, accounting for more than 70 percent of the population, form the majority in the rest of the country.

Up to 80,000 people have died and in the ethnic conflict going back to 1983.  Under pressure from the European Union, the United States, Japan and Norway, peace talks between the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government were held in Geneva Oct.  28-29, but they collapsed without setting a date for further talks.  A cease-fire had held from February 2002, but fighting resumed in recent months.


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