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DateLine Sunday, 22 April 2007

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Vatican commends Lanka's commitment for peace

The Vatican appreciated Sri Lanka's commitment for peace through a dialogue and also expressed its satisfaction on the religious amity.

These sentiments were conveyed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa by Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, following the President's historic meeting with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

President Rajapaksa, who met the Holy Pope on Friday, has explained the humanitarian missions carried out by the Government to liberate innocent civilians from the LTTE terror in several Eastern towns.

The visiting Sri Lankan head of State has pointed out that the Government is committed to a negotiated solution to the conflict in the North as a means of achieving peace and to uphold human rights.

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has appreciated Sri Lanka's commitment for a negotiated settlement and has said that Vatican's prayers would be for a peaceful and united Sri Lanka.

The Holy Pope has expressed confidence in Sri Lanka succeeding in its efforts to find a solution through a dialogue.

The Vatican has also expressed its satisfaction on the religious amity in Sri Lanka and especially the absence of any religious conflicts for more than five centuries. President Rajapaksa emphasised that he did not believe in a military solution to Sri Lanka's conflict and was always open to negotiations.

He explained that it was the LTTE that had consistently walked away from negotiations, including the talks held after his election in November 2005.

The Lankan leader reiterated his Government's firm commitment to safeguard human rights and also explained the many humanitarian steps taken by the Government to ease the problems faced by the Tamil people in the North and East.

Particular reference was made to the supply of food, medicine and other essential goods to Jaffna when the LTTE had acted to create shortages and hardships to the people by ordering the closure of wholesale and retail trade establishments in Jaffna late last year. In the friendly and cordial exchange of views between President Rajapaksa and Cardinal Tarcisco Bertone, the Vatican Secretary of State, the President said the Government did not believe in any military solution to the issue, and that whatever military action being taken by the Government was meant to contain the threat posed by terrorism.

President Rajapaksa also said the All Party Representative Conference was deliberating on proposals for a negotiated settlement and that the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, which he heads, will shortly present its own proposals to the APRC on the sharing of power in the country.

In response to a request by Cardinal Bertone, that facilities be allowed for pilgrims to have easy access to the Madhu Church, President Rajapaksa said he was eager to provide such facilities, but was faced with the fact of the Madhu Church being located in an area held by the LTTE.

President Rajapaksa explained that as Prime Minister he too had wanted to visit the Madhu Shrine, but the LTTE had objected to his coming there.

Eventually, he had not gone to the Madhu Church in a situation where he was refused his security personnel. He told Cardinal Bertone the Government would make every endeavour to facilitate the visit of Catholic devotees to the Madhu Shrine.

A statement by the Vatican following the President's audience with the Pope and the meeting with the Vatican Secretary of State said: "The Catholic Church, which offers a significant contribution to the life of the country, will intensify the delicate commitment to form consciences, with the sole aim of favouring the common good, reconciliation and peace."

President Rajapaksa, who was accompanied by the Foreign Minister Rohotha Bogollagama and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa, is due to end his five-day State visit today.

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