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AUSTRALIA (ANS) -- On 16 January 2008, after almost two years of escalating but unofficial renewed civil war, the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) officially pulled out of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. The war pitting the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) against the Sinhalese Buddhist dominated GoSL is now officially on again. LTTE (a recognised terrorist organisation) is fighting for an independent Tamil state, 'Tamil Elam', encompassing the north and east of the island nation. Ethnic and religious tensions are being heightened by the conflict, which is being prolonged and escalated by increased radicalisation and intransigence on both sides. The Church bridges the Tamil-Sinhalese divide, thus demonstrating a peaceful unity through Christ that undermines the messages of extremists from the LTTE and the GoSL and makes it the target of the warring militants of both.
But that is only the beginning of the Church's security problems. Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists view Tamils and Christians as a threat to their hegemony. Like India's Hindutva protagonists, Sri Lanka's Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists foster paranoia and fear amongst the masses for political gain. They label Tamils as separatist subversive agents of India and Christians as LTTE supporters and subversive agents of the West, inciting violence against them. Furthermore, the civil war gives Buddhist nationalists an opportunity to attack Christians under the cover of chaos, or even to 'kill two birds with one stone' by attacking Christians and blaming LTTE in the hope that the Sri Lankan Army will 'respond' against the Tamils. Therefore it is not surprising to find that violence against the Church is escalating now that the war is official again.
Religiously motivated violence, including arson, threats and intimidation, has been escalating unchecked in the volatile eastern district of Ampara for some time. On 17 February 2008 Pastor Neil Edirisinghe (37), who was leader of The House of the Lord fellowship in Ampara, was fatally shot in the chest while his wife Shiromi (31) was shot in the stomach and critically wounded. Their young son received minor injuries and shock. Investigations exposed this as a contract killing organised by a local Buddhist nationalist angered by Pastor Edirisinghe's ministry.
Also on 17 February, a mob of some 50 angry locals attacked believers attending Sunday worship at King's Revival Church, Mathugama (in the south-west), with Tamil Christians singled out for more severe treatment. The following Sunday the attackers returned and stopped the believers meeting. On the evening of 2 March, ten students of the Believers Church Bible College, Lunuwila (north-west), were walking from the railway station when they were ambushed by a group of about 10 masked men who kicked and bashed them mercilessly. On 3 March, Zion Mount Prayer House in Mulaitivu District (south-west) was set on fire while the pastor, his family and guests were inside -- fortunately they all escaped.
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|Elizabeth Kendal is the Principal Researcher and Writer for the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission (WEA RLC)
http://www.WorldEvangelicalAlliance.com. This article was initially written for the WEA RLP(Religious Liberty Prayer) mailing list
Elizabeth can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.