Church warns of 'foreign intervention' in Sri Lanka

The Catholic Church today warned Sri Lanka's government of foreign intervention unless it worked towards reconciliation and addressed allegations of war crimes during the war against Tamil separatists.

The AFP reported the Cardinal making the statement during a media briefing held this morning.

Malcolm Ranjith, the archbishop of Colombo, said he was urging President Mahinda Rajapakse and the main ethnic Tamil party to hammer out a political settlement or risk an international probe.

"Foreigners should not tell us what to do... We are not a pack of fools," the cardinal said. "But if we do not resolve these issues, then we open ourselves to foreign intervention."

Sri Lanka has resisted international calls to investigate allegations that up to 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed by security forces in the final months of fighting in 2009.

At a Commonwealth summit hosted by Colombo last month, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron warned that he would push for an international inquiry under the auspices of the UN unless Sri Lanka ensures accountability by March.

In a pastoral letter, the church warned that failure on the part of Colombo to ensure accountability for alleged war crimes could trigger international investigations that will be a "serious threat to the sovereignty of the country".

Christians are a small minority in the mainly Buddhist country, but the Catholic church wields considerable influence over the government and Ranjith is regarded as close to Rajapakse.

Since the 37-year separatist war ended in May 2009, there have been no attacks blamed on the defeated Tamil Tiger guerrillas who fought for independence for the island's ethnic Tamil minority.

The cardinal said the majority Sinhalese and Tamils should ensure reconciliation and politicians on both sides should be flexible and hammer out a political power sharing deal.

In its 24-page letter, the church also asked the government to ensure accountability for politically-motivated killings going back four decades.

Up to 40,000 people were said to have been killed when the then government crushed a political uprising by mainly Sinhalese Marxists rebels in 1971. A second uprising by the Marxists between 1987 and 1990 is said to have claimed up to 60,000 lives.

The UN estimates that the Tamil conflict, which is unrelated to the two Sinhalese uprisings, had cost at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009. (AFP)

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