COLOMBO - Sri Lanka’s president Sunday urged nationalist Buddhist monks not to incite religious hatred and violence as he moved to stem a wave of attacks targeting minority Muslims. President Mahinda Rajapakse met with monks with the group known as “Bodu Bala Sena”, or Buddhist Force, and urged them to help maintain religious harmony in a country emerging from decades of ethnic violence, according to a statement released by his office. “It is okay to work to strengthen the Buddhist religion, but it should be done without creating conflicts with other religions,” the statement quoted the president as saying.
The Buddhist Force had disassociated itself with a spate of recent hate attacks against Muslims and public insults against Islam, and claimed that several “duplicate groups” were pretending to be them, the statement said. The group has been campaigning for a ban on halal meat that is permissible for Muslims to consume, but the government has resisted. Religious tensions have escalated with a spate of attacks against Muslim-owned businesses in a nation where 70 percent of the 20 million population is Buddhists. Less than 10 percent of the population is Muslims. Sri Lanka ended its 37-year Tamil separatist war in May 2009 with the crushing of Tamil rebels who were mainly Hindus, who constitute about 12 percent of the population. The ethnic war claimed an estimated 100,000 lives.