Pope Francis says Sri Lanka should seek 'truth' over civil war

Updated 14 January 2015
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Pope Francis says Sri Lanka should seek 'truth' over civil war

COLOMBO: Pope Francis called on Sri Lanka to uncover the truth of what happened during its bloody civil war as part of a healing process between religious communities, as he arrived in Colombo a few days after the island’s wartime leaders were voted out.
Soon after landing in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, Francis appeared to make the case for a truth commission to investigate the 26-year civil war, an election pledge of the government voted into office on Thursday.
“The process of healing also needs to include the pursuit of truth, not for the sake of opening old wounds, but rather as a necessary means of promoting justice, healing and unity,” he said, draped in a long garland of yellow and white roses.
Francis was speaking at Bandaranaike international airport, where he was met by President Maithripala Sirisena, troupes of dancers and a children’s choir. Sirisena said the visit was a blessing for his new government.
The pontiff departed past a long line of costumed elephants, reaching their trunks toward his open-topped white jeep, which briefly came to a halt surrounded by crowds lining the road. The motorcade’s slow progress through the late morning heat appeared to tire the 78-year-old and he canceled a meeting with bishops.
“Due to the hot sun he could not go,” said Sri Lankan Church spokesman Cyril Gamini. The Pope attended a later meeting with the president as scheduled.
Francis is the first pope to visit Sri Lanka in 20 years.
Fighting between the mainly Hindu Tamils and the and mostly Buddhist Sinhalese majority ended in 2009 with a crushing defeat for the Tamils. A 2011 UN estimate put the death toll from the final army assault at up to 40,000 civilians.
Pope Francis had first-hand experience of devastating civil strife as a priest in his native Argentina during its “Dirty War.” A subsequent 50,000-page truth report revealed shocking details of kidnappings, rape and torture by the military junta.
Francis will spend two days in Sri Lanka before heading to the Philippines as part of a trip aimed at shoring-up the Church’s presence in developing nations. The week-long tour is his second to Asia.
The Pope carried a message of inter-faith dialogue, chiming with the new government’s push for religious harmony.
“My government is promoting peace and friendship among our people after overcoming a cruel terrorist conflict. We have people who believe in religious tolerance and coexistence based on centuries old religious heritage,” Sirisena said.
However, Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, was doubtful the new government would agree to a UN inquiry into the end of the war. Sirisena was acting defense minister as the war wound up.
“Sirisena has also said he is not going to back an international investigation,” said Ganguly.
About 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists. Hindus make up about 13 percent and Muslims 10 percent. Catholics are about 7 percent, split between ethnic Sinhalese and Tamils.
Francis will canonize Sri Lanka’s first Catholic saint on Wednesday, and visit a pilgrimage site that was shelled in 1999.

Human dignity
Francis called for a more inclusive society in Sri Lanka, in comments that seemed directed at former president and wartime leader Mahinda Rajapaksa, who lost office after a resurgence in religious tensions and anger at alleged corruption.
“The great work of rebuilding must embrace improving infrastructures and meeting material needs, but also, and even more importantly, promoting human dignity, respect for human rights, and the full inclusion of each member of society,” he said, speaking under the hot morning sun.
Rajapaksa is feted as a hero for ending three decades of war. He also presided over a period of fast economic growth and infrastructure reconstruction.
However, he refused to allow a fully independent inquiry into alleged war crimes and presided over a period of growing repression of religious minorities as well as political opponents.
Rajapaksa’s rule coincided with isolated attacks led by hard-line Buddhist monks against churches and other Christian centers.


India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

Updated 22 September 2019

India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

  • India’s coast guard seized $42 million worth of ketamine

NEW DELHI: India’s coast guard has arrested six Myanmar men and seized $42 million worth of ketamine after spotting a suspicious vessel in the Indian Ocean near the Nicobar Islands.
The 1,160-kilogram drug haul came after coast guard aircraft spotted the boat, which had its lights off, on Wednesday in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the defense ministry said in a statement.
The boat’s crew did not respond to radio calls and the coast guard eventually boarded it, with officials finding “57 gunny bundles of suspicious substance” on Friday.
“Preliminary analysis ... revealed that the suspicious substance was ketamine and there were 1,160 packets of 1kg each onboard the vessel,” the ministry added.
The six Myanmar men and cargo were taken to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they were questioned by investigators.
They claimed they left Myanmar on September 14 and were due to rendezvous with another boat “operating near the Thailand-Malaysia maritime border line” on Saturday, the statement said.
The Nicobar Islands are located near Southeast Asia, off Myanmar’s coast.
Parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are in the lawless “Golden Triangle” zone, the world’s second-largest drug-producing region after Latin America.
Large amounts drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are churned out in remote jungle labs each year and smuggled across Asia and beyond.