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.


Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

Updated 22 January 2020

Dhaka awaiting UN green light to relocate 100,000 Rohingya to $275m island

  • Nearly 30,000 refugees volunteer for move to Bay of Bengal camp which critics fear is in cyclone zone

DHAKA: Authorities in Bangladesh were on Tuesday still awaiting the green light from UN inspectors to start the controversial relocation of 100,000 Rohingya refugees to a newly built $275 million island camp.

Although Dhaka has insisted the tiny island of Bhasan Char is ready to begin receiving families, UN technical experts have yet to carry out health and safety checks.

“Although everything is ready on the ground, we are yet to fix a date to begin the relocation process,” Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the Bangladeshi Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, told Arab News. 

A UN team had been scheduled to visit the island in November last year to assess the safety of facilities and amenities on offer, but the inspection was postponed after Bangladesh asked the UN to explain the reasons for the checks.

“The UN is yet to finalize its technical expert team. Once it has, we will organize the assessment visit,” Kamal said.

Bhasan Char is located in the Bay of Bengal and was formed with Himalayan silt in 2006. In recent months, several international rights organizations have urged Bangladesh not to relocate the Rohingya to the island due to it being in an area prone to cyclones.

Bangladeshi authorities claim it is safe and includes barracks to house the refugees, cyclone centers, schools, hospitals, mosques, community centers, and children’s playgrounds.

However, following the international pressure, Dhaka said it would only move refugees who had volunteered for the initiative. “So far, we have enrolled 5,200 families who have registered voluntarily for the relocation and the total refugee number will be around 30,000,” Kamal added.

The UN says it has already sent details to the Bangladeshi government regarding the technical team’s visit to the island. 

“We are awaiting confirmation from the government regarding alternative dates, as we have shared relevant information with the government of Bangladesh regarding the objectives of the proposed onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” Louise Donovan, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees at Cox’s Bazar, told Arab News. 

“The UN has emphasized the importance of undertaking independent and thorough technical and protection assessments that consider safety, sustainability, and protection issues prior to any relocation taking place. The assessment process should include onsite visits to Bhasan Char,” she added. 

Bangladesh has already spent $275 million to construct the facilities on the island and make it habitable for the Rohingya.

The country currently hosts more than 1,150,000 Rohingya in overcrowded camps at Cox’s Bazar which the UN describes as the largest refugee settlement in the world. Around 750,000 of them have fled from the state of Rakhine, in Myanmar since August 2017 following a brutal military crackdown by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya people.