Sri Lanka police hunt monks who behaved like ‘animals’
ECONOMYNEXT – Police have arrested a man and woman for taking part in a violent demonstration against Rohingya refugees and are looking for several others, including three Buddhist monks who led the mob and "behaved like animals."
Police said a search was underway for monk Akmeemana Dayaratne and two other monks who orchestrated the mob violence against the UN safe house where 31 refugees were sheltered.
Video footage broadcast live on Facebook by the monks themselves showed them inciting violence and urging bystanders to storm the multi-storied building where 16 children and seven women and seven men huddled in upstairs rooms.
On Saturday, a 42-year-old woman from Ratmalana and a 34-year-old man from Moratuwa were arrested for taking part in the violence, police said in a statement.
The Rohingya refugees had been rescued by Sri Lanka’s navy while they drifted off the island’s north in April and handed over to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The UN refugee agency arranged the safe house in Mount Lavinia pending their resettlement in a third country.
Buddhist monk Akmeemana Dayaratne led the group calling itself the Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa (Sinhalese National Force) which stormed the premises by breaking down its gates and smashed windows and furniture and forced the occupants out while armed police stood by without taking any action against the perpetrators of the violence.
However, police moved the refugees to the Boossa detention centre in Galle fearing more attacks on the Rohingya if they remained at Mount Lavinia.
Galle magistrate yesterday issued a restraining order on monk Dayaratne and his supporters following reports that they were planning to stage another demonstration outside the Boossa detention centre.
Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said the government condemned in the strongest possible terms the storming of the UN safe house and said the monks were a disgrace to all Buddhists.
"As a Buddhist I am ashamed at what happened," Senaratne told reporters.
"Mothers carrying very young children were forced out…," he said. "These monks who led the attack are not Buddhists. They acted like animals (thirisan)"
Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera agreed and said the attack was carried out "by a group of thugs in robes."
Video footage released by the attackers themselves on facebook showed a saffron-robed monk breaking down a gate and then climbing a wall and demanding that onlookers enter the refugee centre and destroy it.
Minister Senaratne was also highly critical of the local police for their failure to prevent the attack and said stern action should be taken against senior officers for dereliction of duty.
The Law and Order ministry said three separate investigations had been launched.
Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist monks have close links with their ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar, but the radical BBS, or Bodu Bala Sena, denied any hand in Tuesday’s attack and said refugees must be treated with compassion.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees expressed alarm over Tuesday’s attack and urged Sri Lankans to show empathy for civilians fleeing persecution and violence.
Over half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since August 25.
They have been the target of decades of state-backed persecution and discrimination in the mainly Buddhist country, where many view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. (COLOMBO, Sept 30, 2017)