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Will inter-confessional peace come to Sri Lanka? – Voice of Russia

[MISC, Monday, 23 April 2012 19:20 No Comment]

Photo: EPAA new inter-ethnic and inter-confessional conflict has broken out In Sri Lanka – a country where a bloody civil war had ended only three years ago. On Friday, a crowd led by Buddhist monks gathered near a mosque building in the town of Dambulla, thus interfering with the Muslims’ Friday prayer. Muslims were forced to hide inside the building for a long time. And in the night from Friday to Saturday the mosque building was bombarded with Molotov cocktail bottles. Fortunately, nobody has suffered.

At an emergency meeting of the government of Sri Lanka held in the past weekend it was decided to take the mosque to another place, on the pretext that it was built there illegally.

What is the essence of the problem? Dambulla is a sacred place for the Buddhist majority of the Sri Lanka population. There is a complex of cave temples, dated back to the early period of Buddhism on the island – 1 century BC. It is one of the most famous tourist sites as well. In 1982, the government of Sri Lanka issued a decree, announcing the Dambulla area a sacred place for Buddhists and, therefore, prohibiting construction of any other cult buildings there, except Buddhist.

But the matter is that the mosque has existed here long before this resolution, says Boris Volkhonsky, an expert of the Russian Institute of Strategic Research.

"The mosque was built in 1962. Though today, the opponents of the Dambulla mosque argue that the territory, occupied by the mosque, was recently unreasonably extended. However, the crux of the matter lies not only in this particular mosque."

According to Boris Volkhonsky, a new axis of inter-ethnic and inter-confessional confrontation – between the Singhalese Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority, which represents about 7.5% of the population – is clearly emerging in Sri Lanka in the last few months. Last September a similar accident happened in another sacred for Buddhists and very attractive for tourists region of Anuradkhapur, where the crowd led by Buddhist monks defaced a Muslim shrine.

Sri Lanka has not fully recovered yet from the effects of a 25-year civil war, which had claimed up to 100 thousands of lives. The war was being waged between the government, dominated by the Sinhalese, and the insurgent grouping "Tigers of Tamil Elam". The war, in fact, was not of a religious nature, but a number of radical Buddhist politicians made a lot of efforts to stir up hatred towards the Tamils in the society, Boris Volkhonsky reminds.

"The Muslims (the Moors, as they are called in Sri Lanka) have never been a party to the conflict in the civil war. They haven’t got a territory of their own for compact residence, so there are no separatist ideas among them". Moreover, the Moors, who had lived in the North, in the province of Jaffna inhabited by the Tamils, had themselves become the victims of the separatists: in the 1990-ies the "Tigers" had expelled all of the Moors from the territory under their control, said Boris Volkhonsky.

Today the events of the civil war period attract attention of the whole world. From time to time the Sri Lankan government and personally President Makhinda Radjapaksa are charged with abuse of power and large-scale violations of human rights. Sometimes these charges are put forward not only for the sake of restoration of justice, but for the sake of exerting political pressure on Sri Lanka. But, one way or another, the government is forced to take a defensive position.

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