Family safe despite strife in Sri Lanka

BOMB blasts and riots are causing major disruption each day in Sri Lanka but a former Felixstowe port chaplain and his family today reassured their relatives and friends back home that they are safe.

BOMB blasts and riots are causing major disruption each day in Sri Lanka but a former Felixstowe port chaplain and his family today reassured their relatives and friends back home that they are safe.

Captain Andrew Payne said security had been tightened in Colombo where he and his wife Gemma and young son Daniel are based, but most of the fighting was taking place away from the capital.

A series of bomb blasts in Colombo have prompted a flood of emails from home asking if the family is safe.

Mr Payne said: “I was attending meetings in Mumbai, avoiding some recent riots while I was there, and my parents, who have been visiting us, were in Colombo with Gemma and Daniel when one of the bombs went off.


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“The main fighting though is in the north and east, and is pretty bad with killings on a daily basis.

“It does not affect Colombo directly. Security is very tight as there are armed police and army on every street corner and road blocks and checking points everywhere.

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“They generally do not bother Westerners but we are all aware of the tightened security situation in the city.”

Rebels have been fighting for independence for the 2.5million-strong minority Tamil community in the north and east of the country.

At least 3,400 people have been killed in the conflict in the past year, and another 11 people died this week in the latest violence, while ten students and a teacher were injured in a Tamil Tiger artillery attack on a school in the district of Trincomalee.

The government has brought in tougher laws against what they call terrorist activities. The new legislation gives the security forces wider freedom to arrest and detain suspects.

Mr Payne, who is the Mission to Seafarers' port chaplain in Colombo, said Sri Lanka's tourist areas towards Galle are not affected at all and people should not fear going on holiday.

He said: “Just stay clear of the north and east, and be careful in Colombo generally, although generally we don't feel threatened as the fight is an internal one and they aim their 'terrorist' activities at government and military targets.”

The family moved to Sri Lanka in the summer after working for the mission at the Seafarers' Centre at the Port of Felixstowe for five years. Mrs Payne worked as a nursery nurse and teaching assistant at Langer Primary School.

It was a wrench to leave and has been a complete change of lifestyle for the family, but they have settled in well.

His appointment is part of the mission's expansion plans and follows a recent refurbishment of the Colombo centre.

Mr Payne said despite the high security he was planning an ambitious Christmas and New Year range of services and events at the centre and nearby St Peter's Church.

As well as his normal mission work, he had been helping the Bangladeshi crew of a ship which sank off Galle and who had now been repatriated, and also an Indonesian crew who complained about the poor state of their ship, which was later declared unseaworthy, leaving them stranded.

More than 250 seafarers are now using the centre each month. There was a special reunion when one crew recognised him from having met him in Felixstowe.

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