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SRI LANKA: Churches say anti-terrorism law revival is regressive

By Anto Akkara
[Ecumenical News International]  Churches in Sri Lanka have denounced the revival of a draconian anti-terrorism law by the government aimed at hobbling support for ethnic Tamil rebels with whom government forces are in almost a fully-fledged war despite there being an official cease-fire.

"The government's decision to introduce new regulations on the lines of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) is worrying," Anglican Bishop Duleep de Chickera of Colombo said in a December 8 statement after the overnight government declaration.

Shortly after promulgating the law, President Mahinda Rajapakse justified the decision in a televised address to the nation, saying that fighting terrorism had become difficult because of democracy, which can be abused as a "deadly joke."

Chickera in his statement, however, disagreed with the president. "Many still have painful memories of the harsh impact of the PTA on the life of the nation not too long ago. It was political wisdom coupled with political will that finally led to it being suspended," noted Chickera.

Santha Fernando, a spokesperson for the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, a grouping of eight major Protestant churches, described the government decision as "regressive."

"This will only worsen the situation. It is a clear violation of the cease-fire agreement," Fernando told Ecumenical News International from his office in Colombo.

More than 3,500 people, including civilians, security forces and combatants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), have been killed in renewed fighting this year.

A 2002 ceasefire brokered by Norway has collapsed since the election of Mahinda Rajapakse as president in November 2005 with the support of Sinhala nationalist parties.

Prior to the ceasefire, more than 65,000 lives had been lost since 1983, when the LTTE launched a bloody campaign seeking autonomy for Tamil majority areas in the north and the east against the dominance of the Sinhala-speaking Buddhist majority.

While the mostly-Buddhist Sinhalese account for nearly 70 percent of Sri Lanka's 19 million people, ethnic Tamils account for 17 percent. There are Christian and Muslim minorities in both of those groups.