Intensive shelling by government and rebel forces in Sri Lanka's war hit north has forced Catholics to move a 400 year old statue of Our Lady while the local bishop has called for Vatican diplomatic intervention.
"We have decided to remove our lady from the shrine and are taking her to a safer location for safety reasons as there has been intense shelling in the area from both sides," Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph said according to a Thai-Indian report.
The Madhu church is a well-known pilgrimage site for Catholics and the bishop said he had repeatedly appealed to both sides to respect the area as a no-war zone.
"But the situation has now come for 'Our lady of Madhu' to vacate the area along with the people for the first time in more than 400 years.
'The statue has now been taken further north into the rebel-held areas," the bishop said.
But Sri Lankan military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara blamed the rebels.
"Our troops are well aware of the location of the sacred Madhu Church and we are not firing shells towards that area. The LTTE must be responsible for the firing," he said.
Though there was no immediate reaction from the LTTE on the matter, a pro-LTTE Tamil website puthinam.com quoted the group's political wing head P. Nadesan as saying that the military was trying to convert the Madhu area into a war zone.The Sri Lankan Daily Mirror adds that Bishop Rayappu Joseph also appealed for assistance from the Vatican to resolve the prevailing volatile security situation in the Madhu Church area.
The Bishop informed the Vatican about the ongoing conflict situation in the Madhu Church area between the LTTE and the government forces and requested the Vatican to intervene diplomatically in resolving the matter.
He told the Daily Mirror he had informed the Vatican through Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Mario Zenari. "I briefed him of the situation and told him to inform the Vatican to do something," he said.
Meanwhile the bishop said he had also told the LTTE to vacate the church area and the army to reopen the roads.
Meanwhile, in a later report the Thai Indian reports that a Sri Lankan cabinet minister, Jeyaraj Fernandopulle, a confidant of President Mahinda Rajapaksa was among 12 people killed outside Colombo Sunday morning in a powerful blast blamed on a suspected Tamil Tiger suicide bomber.
Mr Fernandopulle, 55, who held the highways portfolio and was the chief government whip in parliament, was the treasurer and chief organiser of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).
At least 90 people were also wounded in the deafening explosion minutes before the start of a traditional marathon held as part of a "Hindu-Sinhala" event at Waliweriya in the Western province.
The defence ministry said many of the dead and wounded were civilians. It called the bombing a "cowardly bomb attack".
South Asian marathon gold medallist K.A. Karunaratne was among the dead.
SOURCE400-year Mary statue moved from war hit shrine in Lanka (Thai Indian, 5/4/08)
Sri Lankan forces destroy rebel camp (Taipei Times, 5/4/08)Sri Lanka minister among 12 killed in suicide blast (Thai Indian, 6/4/08)
Mannar Bishop tells Vatican to intervene (Sri Lanka Daily Mirror, 5/4/08)