by Thilak S. Fernando

It is very encouraging to note how the Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland are taking such a keen interest and a prominent role to diffuse an ‘unhealthy situation’ in Sri Lanka, thousands of miles away, when at their very door step IRA problems are not yet completely resolved to a permanent settlement!

Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland appears to be committed to God’s mission on earth and its members seem to believe that they, as Christians, cannot cut themselves from the problems of the world and the church has a duty to try and address any conflict situation anywhere in the world. They would like to get involved and be a part of the proof of trying to promote peace at any cost. That is the life of the church, naturally!

It was with such good motives in mind that the Council of Churches in Britain and Ireland sent a delegation recently to Sri Lanka, consisting Rev. Norman Taggart (Methodist Church of Ireland), Rev. Dr. Andrew Wingate (Church of England) Fr. Pat Davis (Roman Catholic Church), Dr. Elizabeth Harris (Methodist Friends of Peace), at the invitation of the Christian Council in Sri Lanka to ‘ observe the current situation in Sri Lanka.

One of the delegates of the mission Rev. Fr. Pat Davies discharges his celestial duties attached to the St. Sebastian and St. Pancras Church at Hay Lane, Kingsbury, NW London. Fr. Pat Davies has a Sri Lankan priest, Rev. Fr. Christopher De Silva the same parish. Kingsbury Parish and the Sri Saddhatissa International Buddhist Centre at Kingsbury (which is affiliated to World Buddhist Foundation) have a common denominator in service when it comes to Interfaith Movement activities. Because of this kind of affiliation Fr. Davies on his return from the Sri Lanka mission had contacted the chief incumbent of the SSIB, Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi, who has suggested that it would be most fitting if he (Fr. Davies) could give a reflection on his recent fact finding visit to Sri Lanka to the Sri Lankans in the locality. Fr. Pat Davies mutually agreed and a meeting took place at the SSIB centre on 27 June 1999, at 8.00 p.m.

Introducing Fr. Davies to the audience Ven. Piyadassai stressed that the meeting had been arranged only to hear Fr. Davies’s observations on his peace mission to Sri Lanka and also to give the Buddhist devotees attached to the SSIB an opportunity to listen to his observations and comments and/or to discuss any relevant points which needed to be discussed prior to an official report coming out. Ven. Piyadassi emphatically stressed the fact that the occasion was not a political platform to anybody and requested the audience not to consider the event as a political meeting.

Wimal de Silva, who is a senior devotee of the SSIB, introduced Fr. Davies as one of the delegates who has been to Sri Lanka recently as part of an organisation called the Churches together in Britain and Ireland to observe the present situation in Sri Lanka and to find a solution for peace and reconciliation. Although it was not categorically mentioned, everyone assumed that the function of the Church mission has been all about the on going war in Sri Lanka. Rev. Davies has been selected for this mission as a Christian with a past experience in conflict, peace and reconciliation background. He has been involved in international affairs and has been the assistant general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ conference in Wales and England. At present he functions as a part-time moderator for the Church in Britain and Ireland. He has been particularly interested in peace and reconciliation issues in South Africa and Bosnia, therefore, his background for promoting peace and reconciliation since 1986, wherever there was a conflict, fitted very well with the Sri Lankan mission.

Fr. Davies briefly giving an outline of the Sri Lankan tour and displaying a normal Sri Lanka map (not the one which the LTTE has marked the areas as traditional home land) said they covered areas such as Kandy, Vauniya, Mannar, Madhu, Anuradhapura, Batticaloa, Puttlam, Kalpitiya, Negombo, Panadura, Bulathsinhala, Hiniduma, Weligama and spoke to a full spectrum of Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists and Christians as well as to the Catholic priests and the Buddhist clergy. The audience took a dim view from the outset when Jaffna was not mentioned in their itinerary. The bottom line of the visit appeared to be to try and find whether there is a demand for a third party mediation to ‘the problems in Sri Lanka’. He said that the Sri Lankan government was aware of their tour and it was done with the State’s permission. Admitting that he was not a very good public speaker he set the audience to a question and answer session.

George Parapitiya opening the question time wanted to know what their was. Fr. Davies said it was the result of a ‘Delegation for Peace’ who visited the UK in 1998 and the invitation came from the Churches in Sri Lanka, National Christian Council and National Peace Council.

Interrupting the guest speaker Parapitiya said, " obviously it was not a religious visit Father! You went to observe an existing problem and resolve whatever it was; you were asked to meet with some people and ask questions! May I ask you what sort of questions did you ask from the Tamils, Sinhalese, Churches and the Buddhist monks"?

Fr. Davies said that they ‘did not have any pre-conceived agenda – in that sense’. " It had been arranged by the Church solidarity movement in conjunction with the National Council for Churches in Sri Lanka . Father Davies went further stressing how the Church did whatever it could to help facilitate the peace process.

Parapitiya still unconvinced of the answer he received pursued further: " Fr. Davies I am still not clear whether your delegation was on a religious basis or something to do with any other matter" !

Fr. Davis could not help laughing at this moment

Parapitiya then becoming somewhat impatient to get a straight reply to a direct question said that the Church delegation from the UK did not go to resolve any political or economic problem in Sri Lanka, and the most obvious thing to assume that they went to find out the basic truth behind the present conflict between the government and the terrorists in Sri Lanka. Referring to the traditional map of Sri Lanka displayed by Fr. Davies Parapititya said that the areas Church delegated had visited were mostly the majority of Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslim areas where everyone lived peacefully. South had no problem whatsoever he said and wanted to know how strange it was then that neither Fr Davies nor his other delegates did not even attempt to visit the North? Looking at the destinations Fr.Davies mentioned and the type of people they had spoken to, Parapitiya wanted to know what problems the delegation saw in those areas, how they managed to communicate in Sinhala and/or Tamil with the ordinary folk without a Tamil or Sinhala knowledge, and whether they could trust what the interpreters translated into English as the Gospel truth ?

Fr. Davies tried to explain the role of the church. He said, being in the Church one could not cut oneself off from the problems of the world, and the church had a duty to try and address any situation- in this scenario the Sri Lankan problems - to see what the Church could do about it. Drawing a reference to the involvement of the Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka, Fr. Davies pointed out that it was the very reason why the Buddhist monks too were involved in ‘the same sort of problems - trying to promote peace’.

Dr. Susantha Goonatilake spoke next. He said he had a feeling by reading the Sri Lankan newspapers that Fr. Davies’ belief that there was a demand for a third party mediation was completely at variance with the public opinion in Sri Lanka which went against international mediation. Digging further into the subject Goonatilake wanted to know the Church’s involvement in the Sri Lankan conflict. Every year, he said, for the past fifteen years, in Geneva there had been a resolution passed at the NGO Section of the Human Rights Organisation which endorsed the false terrorist map of Sri Lanka of the so-called traditional homeland for Tamils. The danger of passing this resolution was that young Tamil kids believing in this ‘ traditional homeland’ fiction were taken, brain washed partly by the LTTE as well as partly the Church and sent as cannon fodder. " My feeling is that, part of the problem lies in this map that ‘you’ have made. Your representative of the cloth Bishop Kenneth Fernando made a very interesting statement few years ago that Prabbhakaran was a great humanist. Another man of the cloth was Fr. Emmanuel who has declared at nauseum that the Tigers are the saviours of the world"! Goonatilake continued.

At this juncture, Fr. Davies said, " I understand it is this man (referring to Fr. Emmanuel) who has been talking in general about Jaffna! " Goonatilake very politely explained to Fr. Davies that he (Goonatilake) had a very large data base in his computer and that he could e-mail all the relevant details to Fr. Davies at any time.

Fr. Davies trying to brush the question aside said that Emmanuel had a particular opinion on things, to which Goonatilake replied, " No Sir, he says he is a Tamil first, and then a Catholic. But he is under the direct orders of the Pope."

Fr. Davies then tried to explain that he went to Sri Lanka as a tourist, but Goonatilake told him that his visit was far from that of an ordinary tourist but as an opinion maker within the country of the Christian people. He went on to say that Emmanuel belonged to the National Christian Council, which had a spin off in the form of the National Peace Council which latter had been funded the International Alert. He then described a whole series of unsavoury events. Goonatilake told Fr. Davies that he had written extensively to Sri Lankan newspapers on the subject and he (Fr. Davis) could go to International Alert and speak to the present people there, who would give all the relevant information on how this situation occurred.

In a somewhat confused state Fr. Davies suddenly asked : " What is this map you mentioned about Tamil home land ? and I am not aware of this map!" Goonatillake in his reply said, " Well, I think Sir, if you do not know what this map is, first of all you should go to one who has visited Sri Lanka properly and find out what this map is. If you have no knowledge of this map then it’s not worth talking at all as to how you are going to solve our problem? Any one, for that matter, who is interested in solving the Sri Lanka problem should know what this map is, and if you do not know, then I am sorry."

Soon George Parapitiya and Wimal Ediriweera gave few maps of Sri Lanka with the claimed Tamil land marked in red to Fr. Davies for his examination.

Douglas Wickremaratne wanted to place on record that in certain quarters of the Sri Lankan community always there was an element of suspicion when the Church assumed ‘an Almighty role ’ to intervene in different countries to solve worldly problems. Fr. Davis said the Church was only trying to do their best to help in whatever form they could.

Wickremaratne went on: "We know how Christians are killing Christians in Northern Ireland but neither we, Buddhists nor our Buddhist monks, are asked to find a solution to that problem" ! Fr. Davies interrupted, " We were asked to go to Sri Lanka".

Wickremaratne said that the Church in Sri Lanka was responsible for a greater part of the present problem. He pointed out how was under Colonial rule for 450 years and, during that time and right the way up to now, even after 51 years of independence of the country, the role Church had been playing was to push down the Sinhala Buddhists. ‘You were speaking of solutions to the problem but not once did you mention that the solution could be the defeat of terrorism existent in Sri Lanka today! That is the role played by the Church in Sri Lanka.

He went on further staing that the Church had always been associated with the terrorist movement in Sri Lanka and said it was a pity that the Sinhalese people had been branded as Sinhala Buddhist chauvinists! - A phrase coined by the Christians in the West. "We have seen the beastly acts of the Serbs in Serbia and Catholics massacring the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, but I have never seen in any English newspaper mentioning the word ‘Serbian Christian chauvinists’ or "Rwandan Catholics"! These are the countries where Christians and Catholics massacred millions of people, but was religion ever dragged into it or blamed"? Wickremaratne lamented.

In reply to a statement made by Fr. Davies on South Africa, with regard to a possible third party mediation, Wickremaratne said that Sri Lankan crisis had no relevance or bearing on South Africa. Fr. Davies was reminded that he (Fr. Davis) went to convert the Black people of South Africa to Christianity but they were not allowed even to pray in the same church with the whites ! " If you don’t want the black man in your church who the hell wants him in heaven, and for what ? " asked Wickrematne, to which the whole audience, including Fr. Davis started laughing.

When the laughter was drowned Fr. Davies referring to South Africa said it had been a long time ago. Wickrematatne viewing the question at a different angle asked Fr. Davies whether he (Fr. Davis) knew what had been proposed as a Devolution Package to the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and that the EDEP had accepted it? Still continuing on the same topic Wickremaratne wanted to know whether the Church in England would propose a similar package to Scotland or England where it could be divided to fifteen regions and parts and given to Asians, Blacks, Cypriots or any other ethnic minority ! "When it comes to Sri Lankan affairs Sir, amazingly enough though, the Church seems to support it with these so-called peace mongers. But when we talk against the division of our own country we are branded as warmongers or Buddhist chauvinists! This is where the problem lies Fr. It is, therefore, immensely vital to identify whether we have a terrorist problem with a certain section of the Tamils who are claiming a homeland in our country".

Fr. Davis attempted to project the role of the Church by saying that the Church in general wanted to make a positive contribution to the Sri Lankan crisis and confirmed his views that the Church had a responsibility to help. Making a personal reference to himself Fr. Davies said: " I can’t just sit and do nothing because of the past history, and I feel I have a duty to try and address some of the wrongs done in the past and to make a positive contribution", to which Wickremaratne replied saying that the Church could actually start by paying compensation.

At this point Chaminda Tilakumara held a placard depicting young LTTE soldiers carrying guns and said, " these are child soldiers of the LTTE sent as cannon fodder. They are Tamil kids, children of Sri Lanka. These boys believe in the brainwashing of the LTTE as gospel truth. About Ten years ago the World Council of Churches passed a resolution to say that the north and east of Sri Lanka were traditional homelands of the Tamils. Now these young brainwashed kids have taken up arms and go as cannon fodder with the determination to defend their mythical homeland that the Church endorses. What a sorry state of affairs and the Church has to take some responsibility towards this". Tilakumara expressed his views about the utter wastage of human life and urged Fr. Davies to study the issues behind and act and react objectively with actual facts. " If you are trying to solve our problem Father, then you will have to address the problem within the Church itself first, who are representing Sri Lanka" he continued.

At this point Fr. Davies was going to say something about the National Church Council in Sri Lanka but his voice was drowned by the uproar of voices emanating from the audience. The peace keeping meeting has now become somewhat a noisy and impatient melo-drama. Tilakumara made it a point to stress that Fr. Kenneth Fernando and Jehan Perera were working for their own self-interest and not for the common interest of their mother country. " Unfortunately, Father, he said, you have been taken for a ride by a group of people who want to promote the package (meaning the Devolution) and divide Sri Lanka".

Fr. Davies at this point in a somewhat impatient and in a helpless mood threw a question at the speaker. " Can you tell me how to help to which Tilakumara responded by referring Fr. Davies to an academic study (thesis) done by a Tamil Prof. Indrapala on the history of Sri Lanka, which is at the University of London and pleaded with him especially to read the Chapter on Sri Lanka Tamil Settlement and to find out for himself whether there is any mention about a Tamil homeland!

Tilakumara continued, " Fr Davies, I am a Catholic myself and I have a lot of Buddhist friends too. Unfortunately in this present scenario I don’t have a place to hide my face because the Church, the very church you and I belong to, is totally misinformed and they are playing the tune of the Tamil extremists".

At this point Nissanka Athukorale asked Fr. Davies whether he ( Fr. Davies) accepted the problem in Sri Lanka as a terrorist problem. As Fr. Davis appeared to be looking for an answer, Athukorale emphasised that the problem in Sri Lanka was a terrorist problem and made it quite clear that the Sinhalese were not against the Tamils but were only against Tamil terrorism – the LTTE - a handful of people who have turned into violence for their own end.

Wimalasekera next took the floor next and told Fr. Davis that when the Peace Mission from Sri Lanka came to Piccadilly last year he was one of the few Sinhalese who was present at the meeting and to challenge Jehan Perera when he misquoted statistics to the effect that Perera was not aware of Tamil people living in the South before 1983. Referring to Selvy Thiruchandran who was also a member of the Peace Mission 1998, Wimalasekera reminded Fr. Davies that she spoke like a trumpet of the LTTE. Wimalasekerea went on further to stress that after the so-called Sri Lankan revolution in 1956, the Christian Church opposed vehemently to the government proposal aimed at nationalising schools in the country to give equality to all children irrespective of cast, race, village or suburban", Wimalasekera wanted to know whether it was the standing of the Church - when the Church talked about equality, peace and the rest ? Wimalasekera wanted to know from Fr. Davies that when they visited Sri Lanka as a Peace Mission whether or not their top priority should have been to go and meet with Prabhakaran, the LTTE leader.

" Have you made any attempt"? "Were you introduced to him" ? " If you were on a peace mission, Father, surely the team who came over here and invited you to Sri Lanka would have arranged an appointment for you to go and meet Prabahakaran. It would have been a much better contribution by your team and, it would have at least led to a negotiating process", Wimalasekera added.

Fr. Davis in his reply said that a section of the peace mission went and met the LTTE representatives and what took place would be compiled into a report and published, and everyone would be afforded an opportunity to read it.

In reply to a statement by Fr. Davies , where he indicated that to some greater extent he was convinced both the terrorists and the army were aggressive on military activities and, therefore, a settlement could not be reached peacefully because of this factor, Wimalasekera said that ‘ the military was doing a duty by the government in fighting a terrorist menace. The violence came from the terrorists he said and it would be common to ant democratically elected government to defend its sovereignty and its people.

He urged Fr. Davies not to believe that peace could not be reached because the government was using military power. "Any government for that matter, in such a situation, will have to put down aggression at any cost," Wimalasekera said in a somewhat firm tone. A voice from the gallery was heard saying: "That’s what they did in Serbia and Ireland".

At this point another speaker expressed his fears about the dialogues of the Sunday meeting might be misreported in some journal or missionary magazine, all coloured and twisted. He made an appeal to Fr. Davies to ensure that any article that went into publication should only reflect on what exactly took place at the meeting maintaining its true spirit. Answering to a cross question about the Peace Mission’s intention to diffuse the situation in Sri Lanka Fr. Davies replied by saying that the Church has not got a mandate to do so.

Goonatilake coming back once again on the Geneva Resolutions and the homeland for the Tamils in Sri Lanka said since Fr. Davies didn’t know about the resolutions that had been passed in Geneva, and if Goonatilake were to provide him with the correct information, historical as well as the resolutions that had been passed, whether Fr. Davies could promise that those resolutions would be dispassed in the next meeting in Geneva? "At least that would be the first step peace" Goonatilake added !

Fr. Davies simply said, " I don’t think that is necessary for me to do", to which Goonatilake asked whether Fr. Davies would include his (Goonatilake’s) views in the Church journal or the official report of the Church Mission when published. Goonatilake assured Fr. Davis that he would give an open letter for publication at any time.

Goonatilake said in Sri Lanka ‘ there is a new sect of Buddhist monks nicknamed the Christian nikaya who are patronised and paid for by a certain section’. That was why he said he wanted all those dealings that were there to be in the public domain. ‘This is a transparent society’, he said, and ‘if you have a journal I would like to write to you Fr. Davies and expect you to respond back to me publicly. After all, Father, you are a believer and I am a non-believer, but both of us are trying to find the truth’, Goonatilake concluded.

Thusitha Gunawardena pointing out that the Church mission had failed to visit Jaffna nor had they met with Prabhakaren wanted to know whether Fr. Davis considered the LTTE as a terrorist organisation to which a diplomatic answer emerged to say that he was against any terrorist activities. Gunawardena pointed out that the USA had banned them as a terrorist group and wanted to know why Fr. Davies was so reluctant to give a direct answer? Fr. Davies in a helpless mood with questions firing from all sides of the audience at the same time simply said, " I don’t know."

Athukorale taking the floor once again tried to explain to Fr. Davies how important and crucial to know Fr. Davies’s role Fr. Davies’ personal views, especially after visiting Sri Lanka on a fact finding mission. If the American government had branded them as terrorists Athukorale said, he could not fathom Fr. Davies’ answer as " I don’t know" ! Next, he asked Fr. Davies whether he didn’t see Tamils living in Colombo and the South of the Island by their thousands? Whether he did not notice that they speak the Tamil language quite freely in Colombo and in the South? Whether he did you not see they move around everywhere ? "But, may I ask you Sir, did you see a single Sinhalase or a Muslim living in the north ? Did you come across any… at all….? He questioned Fr. Davies.

Athukorale pointed out to Fr. Davies that it was very important that he got his fact right on the whole issue at the meeting as he (Fr. Davis) was going to produce an official report, which would be in the public domain very shortly. " If you went on a delegation to Sri Lanka on a fact finding mission sir, and come here after a thorough investigation and tell us that you don’t know enough about the problem, then it is very sad", he lamented. He said, therefore, it was very important that Fr. Davies gathered collective ideas of the people in that meeting room and made sure that some of the questions raised there were reflected and combined in the official report as the view point of a section of the Sri Lankan expatriates living in the UK.

Wimal Ediriweera referring to Jehan Perera and his team who came to London and propagated that the LTTE was actually fighting for freedom and they were an oppressed people in Sri Lanka said it was up to Father Davies to find out whether the Tamil claims were just or not. "You must decide whether it is a case of terrorism or freedom fighting, because the ultimate solution will rest on that. If the government is fighting terrorism it is one thing, and freedom fighting is yet another. In this scenario it is unfortunate that the Church has taken a misguided path and even in most of their literature the problem is referred to as "a fight against oppression of the Tamil people by the Sinhalese chauvinists"

" The most tragic part is that you base your findings just by looking at a map of Sri Lanka in isolation. If you want to know whether the the government or the Sinhala people’s claim is right or wrong then you must compare it not in isolation but in reference to the rest of the world. Ediriweera pointed out that some of the Sinhala people had been living in the UK for over for 25 years, and if they were to take up arms tomorrow and ask for a piece of land in England as their homeland whether the British government or the Church would tolerate it ! TheTamils were in the same situation in Sri Lanka, he pointed out.

‘During the British rule Tamils were brought from Tamil Nadu by the British and the Sinhala majority was controlled with the use of the Tamils’ Ediriweera said. When Sri Lanka received independence British government leaned on the Sri Lanka government to continue the privileges given to the Tamils during the British rule and up to now, over 51 years of independence, Tamils have only increased their economic and political power and there is terrorism’, he said.

"For 51 long years of independence we have had government majority of Sinhalse parities divided into two and the balance of power being held by Tamil parties ( there are 7 of them today). Sinhalese have incorporated Tamil colours into the National flag. Tamil is made an official language along with Sinhalese. Sri Lanka is perhaps the only country to declare religious holidays for all other faiths, Christian Tamil and Muslim. What is the problem we have in Sri Lanka with the Tamils", he wanted to know and emphasised further on the terrorist activities and the demand for a separate Tamil land within Sri Lanka.

Listening to and watching the ‘Peace Promotion’ interaction on a Sunday evening at the SIBC one thing emerged as crystal clear. Despite emotions getting way in some quarters on and off, and others at times going at a tangent on ethics and morals of the Church, Fr. Davies in my mind learnt quite a lot, much more than he experienced during his visit to Sri Lanka. After the meeting Fr. Davies had a cordial discussion with many who briefed him on various aspects of the crisis – a substantial portion of facts which he was not aware of, including the Tamil claimed land map.

It was the fervent hope of all those who gathered at the SIBC that when the report is compiled by the Church on their fact finding mission to Sri Lanka it will be unbiased, and would reflect on all the valid points raised at the ‘Promoting Peace’ meeting held on 27 June 99 in London . Sri Lankan expatriates expect to see the report to make any amendments, if necessary, before it goes out to printers finally. After all, Church is for Christians’ God’s domain and everyone expects that God’s men will go by the truth in their report.

Island 16th and 17 May 99