DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     November 23, 1999     vol. 10, no. 222

from a CATHOLIC perspective

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In Sri Lanka artillery attack hits church, kills dozens

        ROME (CWNews.com/Fides) Ė New charges of complicity with genocide by a Catholic priest in Rwanda were lodged in media reports on Sunday as the trial of Catholic bishop on genocide charges began again in Kigali on Tuesday and reports of a possible campaign to implicate the Church came to light.

        Father Athanase Seromba, 36, now working in Italy with the permission of his bishop, has been accused of assisting in the 1994 genocide that left hundreds of thousands of ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus dead at the hands of extremist Hutus. The London Sunday Times quoted the director of the London-based African Rights organization, Rakya Omaur, as saying that "in the light of testimonies, it is surely impossible for the Church in Italy and in Rwanda, the judicial authorities in Italy, or the International Criminal Court for Rwanda, to allow Father Seromba simply to leave his past behind."

        However doubt was cast on the charges as a report sent by Hakizabera Christophe to the United Nations' commission on the UN's actions during the genocide came to light. Hakizabera was one of the first members of the Rwandan Patriot Front, a movement which regained power in Kigali after the genocide, but he fled the country in 1995, fearing for his life. He said that in 1991, long before their actual offensive, FPR leaders decided to attack the Hutu regime then in power in Kigali "on all fronts: military, political, media."

        Hakizabera said that FPR leaders decided then to "make false accusations against the Church because it preaches equality of all men and helps to educate the people; to eliminate Hutu priests, and then replace them with Tutsi priests; to terrorize missionaries and force them leave the country, because they are uncomfortable witnesses and hinder the FPRís plans; to kill the older missionaries who know the history of Rwanda, because they are responsible for what happened in 1959, when the Tutsi lost power to the Hutu elite, educated by missionaries in the minor seminaries."

        Meanwhile, the trial of Bishop Augustin Misago of Gikongoro on genocide charges prepared to begin again on Tuesday, even as defense lawyers contended they were being prevented from bringing their full plate of witnesses. When he had set the date for resumption for November 23, Judge Jaliel Rutamemara said: "This will be the last day for witnesses or we will never come to the end."

        During the last hearing on November 16, the defense began to question the prosecutorís witnesses, and one international observer present described the witnesses as an "avalanche of lies in a desert of facts." Bishop Misagoís lawyer has repeatedly pointed out the incoherence of the prosecution, first accusing him of planning the genocide and then reproving him for not helping its victims.

        In a related story out of Colombo, Sri Lanka, the country's military and rebels both denied responsibility on Sunday for an artillery attack on a church in Madhu that left at least 38 refugees dead and nearly 60 wounded.

        The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), fighting for a sovereign homeland in the north of the Indian Ocean island, said the civilians, among 3,500 sheltering at the church after being displaced by fighting, were killed because of the actions of Sri Lankan soldiers. "A commando unit of the Sri Lankan army stormed into the defenseless church premises last night holding thousands of refugees as a human shield," the LTTE said.

        Defense officials said the LTTE fired the shells, hoping to kill the soldiers among the refugees, after the government retook the town from the rebels. The rebels said the military used the defenseless of the church to fire artillery shells indiscriminately.

        A 5-kilometer radius around the Our Lady of Madhu Church, a popular pilgrimage site, had been designated a no-fire zone by both sides in the conflict over the past 15 years. Bishop Rayappu Joseph of Mannar and Bishop Malcolm Ranjith, secretary of Sri Lanka's Catholic Bishops' Conference, decried the presence of 300 soldiers in the church compound at the time of the attack and called for both sides to immediately clear the area. They said both sides should "strictly refrain from using Madhu for any strategic or political advantage."

Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

November 23, 1999       volume 10, no. 222


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