04/20/2007, 00.00
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Negotiations and respect for human rights only path to peace in Sri Lanka, says Pope

Benedict XVI receives President Rajapaksa. In a press release, Vatican says Church will “intensify her delicate task of forming consciences with the sole ambition of favoring the common good, reconciliation and peace.”

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – In his meeting with Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Pope Benedict XVI said that human rights should be respected and negotiations must be resumed in order to end bloodshed in the island nation. The Sri Lankan leader subsequently met Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.

In a press release that followed the Vatican said: In the course of the talks and in the light of the current situation in Sri Lanka, the need was reiterated to respect human rights and resume the path of dialogue and negotiation as the only way to put an end to the violence that is bloodying the island. The Catholic Church, which offers a significant contribution to the life of the country, will intensify her delicate task of forming consciences with the sole ambition of favoring the common good, reconciliation and peace.”

Mr Rajapaksa visited the Vatican with his wife Shiranthi, who is Catholic, his son Naal and several government officials, including three of his cabinet ministers who are Catholic.

The president and the men in his delegation wore a tradition white ceremonial attire; the women instead donned a traditional sari, blue in the case of Sri Lanka’s First Lady.

The private audience between the Pope and Mr Rajapaksa lasted about 20 minutes and did not require an interpreter. It was followed by the introduction of the Sri Lankan delegation to the Holy Father and the exchange of gifts. The president brought a traditional water carafe in silver. The Pontiff presented medals of his pontificate.

Rajapaksa’s press advisor Lucien Rajakarunanayake told journalists that the president hoped that the Pope would appreciate his government’s efforts to solve the country’s conflict; their ultimate goal is to find a peaceful resolution to the bloodshed that has affected the country since 1983 and this despite the 2002 cease-fire.

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