BY JOE JENKINS A SPECiAL memorial service was held in London last Saturday for the victims of the shelled Church of St Peter and St Paul in Navali, Sri Lanka. The shelling of the Catholic church and its school in a Tamil-controlled region of the country on 9 July last year was remembered at an interdenominational service at St Martin in the Fields, London, the week after its one hundred and forty-second victim died in hospital of stomach injuries sustained in the attack by Government air and land forces.
The dead, including at least 13 babies, were mourned in a service which contained two new songs; one written and performed by Christian musician Garth Hewitt and another written by students ofJaffna University, Sri Lanka, and performed by members of the Tamil Church of God Youth Alive group from Palmers Green in London.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Government forces "launchea a large-scale military offensive against the positions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil EeLlm... The operation, involving intensive artillery shelling and air strikes immediately forced tens of thousands of civilians to leave the area. Many
of the displaced sought shelter in churches and temples."
The Government dropped leaflets to warn civilians of the attack, but still hit civilian buildingsi The BBC reported on 9 July: " according to what the Government says they have dropped leaflets asking the people to move to places of worship".
Deirdre McConnell of the Tamil Catholic Chaplaincy in Tooting, south west London, the Ioose-knit proTamil organisation which organised the service with the London Tamil InterFaith Group and the Conference of Religious Social Justice Desk, told the Herald that attacks like this have
had a lasting effect on the Tamil separatists and refugees. "Tamil people are scared to talk about human rights, even in this country," she said.
At the time of the bombing, Pope John Paul II said: "I want to express my deepfelt sharing in the suffering of so many people involved in the ethnic conflict that is tearing Sri Lanka apart. I share the grief of those who lost their loved ones in the bombing of the church and school of Navali."
The Refugee Council reports that 2,070 Tamils applied to Britain for asylum in 1995. Only ten per cent are believed to have achieved temporary asylum.