Sri Lanka Welcomes First Ecumenical Conflict Research Team

War-torn Sri Lanka has welcomed the first of a series of visits around the world by an ecumenical team seeking to learn more about the peacemaking efforts of local churches in conflict-stricken regions.

The team - composed of church leaders from the United States, Kenya, Indonesia and South Korea - have been in Sri Lanka since last Saturday and will remain there until 12 August, the World Council of Churches (WCC) announced last month.

Members of the "living letters" team aim to express solidarity with local churches facing violent situations and report about their reconciliation efforts at the upcoming 2011 International Ecumenical Peace Convocation organised by WCC.

"We want the delegation to be exposed to the stark realities of war in the North and East before they meet church leaders and civil society representatives based in Colombo," said the Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, general secretary of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka - host of the ecumenical team.

Sri Lanka has suffered from fighting between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for two-decades with a few years of peace after the two parties signed a Cease Fire Agreement on February 2, 2002. Yet sporadic fights continued even after the agreement was signed with the conflict intensifying since the end of 2005.

The rebel group LTTE says that it is fighting to create a separate state for the country's 3.1 million ethnic minority Tamils, which it says is discriminated in Sri Lanka.

According to the United Nations, some 70,000 people have been killed and 465,000 displaced by the conflict, including 205,000 uprooted since fighting intensified in April 2006.

Delegates currently visiting Sri Lanka will participate in exposure trips to areas in the northern and eastern regions of the country (Mannar, Batticaloa and Jaffna); meet with church leaders and officials of the National Christian Council; visit members of congregations in the country's capital Colombo and other areas; and meet with human rights activists.

The "living letters" teams are part of what is hoped to become a major worldwide mobilisation of churches for peace that will head into the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation to be held as conclusion of the WCC "Decade to Overcome Violence" in early May 2011.