Buddhist extremists hold first meeting after Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero (R), head of the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or "Buddhist Power Force", speaks at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic before the Buddhist monks convention in Kandy, Sri Lanka July 7. 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 08 July 2019

Buddhist extremists hold first meeting after Easter attacks in Sri Lanka

  • Many shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Kandy said they planned to close their establishments on Sunday for fear of violence

KANDY: Police lined the streets of the Sri Lankan highland town of Kandy on Sunday and the army was on standby as hard-line Buddhist monks gathered for their first big assembly since Easter attacks by Islamist extremists on churches and luxury hotels.
Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara, the influential head of the Buddhist nationalist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), had called for as many as 10,000 clergymen from across the country to attend the meet.
The group said the gathering discussed who to back in the presidential elections later this year in the Indian Ocean island nation where Buddhists make up about 70 percent of the population. The rest include ethnic Tamils, who are mostly Hindus, and Muslims.
Dressed in orange, Gnanasara visited one of Buddhism’s most sacred temples in Kandy on Sunday where a relic believed to be the Buddha’s tooth is kept. Later, the hard-liner, who has faced allegations of inciting violence against Muslims, addressed the gathering.
After visiting the temple, he told reporters they would take a “historical decision” to give leadership for the development and security of the Sinhalese.
“Today, the Sinhala ethnicity, which has developed this country historically, has become very weak ... There is no leader who holds responsibility for Sinhalese,” he said adding some people were trying to sabotage the convention by spreading fears of possible riots.

FASTFACT

• There has been increasing anti-Muslim violence in the country in recent weeks, blamed in part on Buddhist groups, in apparent reprisal for the April bombings claimed by Daesh that killed more than 250 people.

• Muslims have become fearful of a backlash, especially from hard-line groups such as the BBS that are leading the campaign against extremism.

“The army is assisting the police on security under the emergency law,” military spokesman Sumith Atapattu said, adding soldiers were on alert should trouble erupt.
There has been increasing anti-Muslim violence in the country in recent weeks, blamed in part on Buddhist groups, in apparent reprisal for the April bombings claimed by Daesh that killed more than 250 people.
Muslims have become fearful of a backlash, especially from hard-line groups such as the BBS that are leading the campaign against extremism.
Many shopkeepers and restaurant owners in Kandy said they planned to close their establishments on Sunday for fear of violence.


Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

Updated 20 September 2020

Afghan govt. vows to probe civilian deaths in Kunduz airstrike

  • There have been conflicting reports from lawmakers and residents about number of fatalities
  • Taliban says none of its fighters killed in attack

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry pledged on Sunday to probe “allegations” of at least 12 civilians being killed in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters in the northern Kunduz province a day earlier.
The pledge followed inconsistencies about the number of casualties, with the insurgent group saying that none of its men had died in the attack.
“The Taliban were the target, and 30 of them were killed. Initial reports indicate no harm was inflicted upon civilians, but we are probing reports by locals about civilian casualties. The Afghan National Defense and Security Forces take allegations of civilian harm seriously, and these claims will be investigated,” Fawad Aman, a spokesman for the defense ministry in Kabul, told Arab News.
He added that the ministry would “share any details” about civilian casualties “once the probe is over.”
If confirmed, Saturday’s airstrike in the Khan Abad district, which lies nearly 350 km from Kabul and is mostly controlled by the Taliban, will be the latest in a series of air raids killing civilians in several parts of the country.
It follows a week after crucial intra-Afghan talks between the government and Taliban officials began in Doha, Qatar on Saturday, to end the protracted war and plan a roadmap for peace in Afghanistan.
There were conflicting accounts from civilians and lawmakers in the area about the incident, with two provincial council members, Ghulam Rabbani Rabbani and Sayed Yusuf, saying that at least 12 civilians had died in Saturday’s air raid.
“Since the area is under Taliban’s control, we have not been able to find out exactly how the civilians were killed,” Rabbani told Arab News.
Meanwhile, Nilofar Jalali, a legislator from Kunduz, offered another version of the attack, which she said “hit a residential area before sunrise when people were still in their bed.”
“Children and women are among the dead, and 18 civilians have also been wounded. I informed the defense minister about it; he said he will check and get back to me, but has not,” she told Arab News. However, Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid, denied the reports in a statement on Sunday, saying that “no fighter of the group was killed,” before placing the number of civilian deaths at 23.
Kunduz and other parts of the country have witnessed an escalation in attacks by both the government and the Taliban in recent weeks, despite their negotiators participating in the Qatar talks which are part of a US-facilitated process following 19 years of conflict in the country — Washington’s longest war in history.
The Qatar discussions are based on a historic accord signed between Washington and the Taliban in February this year which, among other things, paves the way for the complete withdrawal of US-led troops from the country by next spring, in return for a pledge from the Taliban not to allow use Afghanistan to harm any country’s, including US, interests.
Kabul’s negotiators in Qatar are pushing the Taliban to declare a cease-fire, while the Taliban say it can be included in the agenda and that both sides must first ascertain “the real cause” of the war.
Some analysts believe that while delegates of the parties are struggling to agree over the mechanism and agenda of the talks in Qatar, their fighters in Afghanistan are “focusing on military tactics to capture grounds” so that they can use it as a “bargaining chip” at the negotiation table.
“Both sides think that if they have more territory then they can argue their case from a position of strength during the talks and use it as leverage,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst and a former university teacher, told Arab News.
“The sides have not yet agreed on the mechanism of the talks despite the Qatar talks, which began on the 12th of September. So, this is an indication that things are not going the right way politically, and both sides are trying their luck on the battlefield here.”