COLOMBO - In an effort to halt attacks against the Muslim community, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has appealed to Buddhist monks to avoid inciting religious hatred and violence in the country.
It is okay to work to strengthen the Buddhist religion, but it should be done without creating conflicts with other religions," the president said in a statement cited by Nahar Net on Monday, January 28.The Sri Lankan leader held a meeting Sunday with Buddhist monks to discuss ways of halting a wave of attacks against Muslims in the Asian country.
He met with members of a controversial group known as "Bodu Bala Sena", or Buddhist Force, which has been accused of inciting and leading attacks against Muslims.
The group has been campaigning for a ban on halal meat, a campaign resisted by the Sri Lankan government.
The Buddhist group has denied any role in attacks on Muslims, saying several "duplicate groups" were pretending to be them, the statement said.
Sri Lanka has been thrown into tension following a string of serious incidents involving extremist Buddhist provocations against Muslims in Sri Lanka.
In June, some 200 demonstrators led by several dozen Buddhist monks converged on a small Islamic center in Colombo's suburb of Dehiwala.
Throwing stones and rotten meat over the mosque gate, protestors shouted slogans demanding the closure of the Muslim worship place.
Earlier in April, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla. The attackers claimed that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal.
Weeks later, monks drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.
The attacks on Sri Lankan Muslims have raised deep concerns in the country.
There is a breakdown of the established law and order, Kabir Hashim, MP from United National Party, the country's main opposition party, told The Sunday Leader.
There is a group purposely creating discord among communities.
N. M. Ameen, Chairman of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), was also concerned.
He said while the monks claimed the protests were against the so called Muslim extremists, it was affecting ordinary Muslims as well.
Last week, Muslim lawmakers have called for a meeting with the President to discuss attacks against the community.
Ameen stressed that the Muslim Council had sought the immediate intervention of the President and the government on the issue.
The government insists that it is taking the issue of attacks on Sri Lankan Muslims seriously.
Deputy Minister of Buddha Sasana and Religious Affairs M. K. A. D. S Gunawardena said President Rajapaksa had appointed a committee to look into the issue.
The government will not allow any religion to be abused. If something happens we will take legal action. All religions have equal rights, he told The Sunday Leader.
We will deal with the issue based on the recommendations of the committee.
But MP Hashim, from United National Party, disagrees.
First the government must stop this. There is no need for a Parliament Select Committee to do that, he said.
The government seems to be trying to deviate from facing the problem.
Sri Lankan Muslims, known as Moors, are the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Sinhalese, who make up 70 percent of the populace, and Tamils, who account for 12.5 percent.
Analysts say successive governments have been under pressure to give in to the Buddhist majority whenever there is an ethnic clash.During the country's long civil war, the Muslim community was often caught between the two warring parties and it has a reputation for moderation.