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Sunday August 30th 2009:26th Anniversary of enforced disappearances

August 30, 2009

Most of the disappeared are Tamils.

SRI LANKA  Bishop sees little hope of missing priest being alive

The bishop of Jaffna believes the chance that a priest who disappeared three years ago might still be alive is “remote.”

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Father Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka,
lights a candle in front of a picture of Father Jim Brown

Bishop Thomas Savundaranayagam made this assessment in his message on the third anniversary of the disappearance of Father Thiruchelvam Nihal Jim Brown and layman Wenceslaus Vincent Vimalathas.
The Tamil prelate’s message was read at a gathering that included the parents of Father Jim Brown, as he is known, priests and about 30 rights activists on Aug. 20 at the Caritas Sri Lanka auditorium in Colombo.
Father Jim Brown of St. Philip Neri Church in Allaipiddy, Jaffna, and his assistant, a father of five, went missing on Aug. 20, 2006, on the Jaffna peninsula, then a main center of the former Tamil separatist insurgency.
The two men were last seen traveling by motorcycle to celebrate Mass. Three years later, their fate remains unknown. Police say they tried to investigate the disappearance but were hampered by the civil war situation at the time.
Catholics remember the priest as a peacemaker who tried to secure the safety of local Catholics during the civil war.
Church officials criticized the police investigation in the war-torn, Tamil-majority area. In December 2007, Bishop Savundaranayagam told UCA News that “a police officer who had no working knowledge of Tamil (language) came from Colombo to collect evidence from the Tamil people on the disappearance.”
“The state is not conducting the inquiry with sincerity,” the prelate complained.
The recent commemoration for Father Jim Brown and Vimalathas was organized by Christian Alliance For Social action (CASA), a private body that engages in legal research and advocacy for human rights.
Ainsley Joseph, on behalf of CASA, said there has been “no news, but we should not forget priests who saved lives.”

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The parents and brother of the missing priest

During the commemoration, participants lit candles in memory of the two missing men. “Let us continue what Father Jim had given to us,” said Father Damian Fernando, director of Caritas Sri Lanka, the Catholic Church’s social-service organization.
Jesuit Father Lasantha De Abrew, who is involved in humanitarian work, spoke of the need to go beyond simply remembering Father Jim Brown. He asserted the search for a political solution needs to be “enhanced” for “national reconciliation.”
The 25-year-long civil war that ended when the government overran the rebels’ last holdout in May claimed almost 100,000 lives, including those of six priests and Church workers. Catholic and other religious buildings were also destroyed.
Rosalin Thiruchelvam, mother of the missing priest, is struggling to keep her hopes up. “He is alive,” she cried to UCA News.
Father A.F.X. Jayasegaram, president of the justice and peace commission of Jaffna diocese, said by phone that all parishes in the diocese held a remembrance Mass for the missing Church workers.
From the start of the civil war in 1983 through the end of 2007, the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations recorded 5,516 cases of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka.

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