Mosque dispute: GTF opens new front against Sri Lanka

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The Global Tamil Front (GTF) has opened another front against the government with a heavy attack on the UPFA over the Dambulla mosque issue, while the ruling coalition struggled to contain the crisis.

In a statement issued from London, GTF spokesperson, Suren Surendiran, over the weekend, alleged that the move to demolish the mosque at Dambulla highlighted the continuing threats directed at the minorities in post-war Sri Lanka. The statement, which was also to be issued in Arabic, reiterated concerns expressed by the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) on Friday.

Surendiran told The Island that the GTF stood in solidarity with the Muslim community in Sri Lanka. The GTF official alleged that the majority community led by a section of Buddhist clergy had targeted the mosque, while the authoritarian Rajapaksa regime looked the other way.

Alleging the UPFA’s complicity in violence directed at minorities, the GTF blamed law enforcement authorities of turning a blind eye to what was going on at Damulla. Referring to a statement attributed to UPFA constituent, Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), the GTF pointed out that it had called for the immediate demolition of the Dambulla mosque on the basis that it was constructed illegally.

A senior official with the External Affairs Ministry said that the GTF was trying to exploit the Dambulla incident to its advantage. Those terror backers had conveniently forgotten how the LTTE massacred Muslims during prayers and chased them out of the Northern Province, the spokesperson said, challenging the GTF to make its position clear on the slaughter of 77 men, women and children by a Norwegian, who publicly claimed that the LTTE had inspired him.

Well informed sources said that an attempt was being made to use the Dambulla incident to undermine Sri Lanka’s relations with Muslim countries, which strongly backed the GoSL at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) vote on a resolution moved by the US in March.

Surendiran said: "The inaction of law enforcement authorities and Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne’s directive to relocate the disputed mosque highlighted the continued infringement on religious freedom and intolerance of minorities. Although, the Premier’s office claimed that the decision was taken in consultation with Muslim political leaders, it was denied. It is characteristic of successive Sri Lankan governments to succumb to pressure from the majority, whenever there were ethnic tensions."

 Responding to a query, Surendiran pointed out that the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka had said that the mosque was legally registered and has been in existence for over 50 years, long before the area was declared a sacred Buddhist area. Citing an incident at Anuradhapura last September, the GTF official said that the government had failed to protect the interests of non-Buddhists and was interested only in pampering to the whims and fancies of the hardliners.

 The GTF also alleged that in the Northern Province, the military was busy changing the demography of the region, where the numbers of Buddhist statues, viharas and stupas on the A9 has highway noticeably increased. The GTF alleged that the armed forces were preventing people from rebuilding original Christian and Hindu places of worship that have been damaged or destroyed during the war.

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