Sri Lankan Defence Secretary and alleged war criminal, Kamal Gunaratne, pledged to Buddhist monks in Amparai that he would protect archaeological sites through the establishment of a naval sub-unit in Muhudu Maha Viharaya and enact harsh punishments for "vandalism".
During his visit, he was accompanied by top military officials such as the notorious army commander, Shavendra Silva, Navy Commander, Piyal De Silva, and Security Forces Commander Rasika Fernando. Acting Inspector General of the Police, C. D. Wickramaratne and Eastern province Governor Anuradha Yahampath were also present during the meeting.
Gunaratne was reportedly instructed to make a tour of the surrounding areas of Muhudu-Maha Viharaya and Deegawapiya by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Speaking to the monks Gunaratne claimed.
“Sri Lanka has been experiencing an increase in vandalizing and also encroaching those sites by certain individuals and groups during the last few years. It is unfortunate to learn that some people are damaging those sites and also encroaching some of the important religious sites in the presence of the law enforcement”.
He further said:
“Damages to national heritages, intended or otherwise, will not be tolerated and all possible actions will be taken within the existing law to bring the culprits to book,”
One of the monks he spoke to, Ven Indratissa, claimed that the 72 acres of the land they claim was granted in 1951 but subsequently reduced to 32 acres in 1965. He further stated that 42 families residing on the land are now “encroaching” on their temple land.
This meeting follows rising concerns of Sinhalisation in the north and east where Buddhist viharas are being built upon the traditional Tamil homeland of the North and East. There are specific concerns over the exploitation of archaeology as a justification to expropriate Tamil owned land.
In February 2019, TNA MP Shanthi Sriskantharajah raised concerns over colonisation efforts in Mullaitivu. In his statement he maintained:
“In Semmalai, a place where not a single Buddhist lives, a statue of Buddha has been constructed. I informed the President and he instructed the construction to be halted. But the Buddha statue was opened as planned. The Pillaiyar Temple which was there has been destroyed.”
The Federation of Saiva (Hindu) Temples UK has raised similar concerns citing cases such as when Buddhist monks destroying a Hindu temple in Kanniya, Trincomalee.
The establishment of a naval sub-unit in Ampara has raised concerns given the litany of human rights allegations against the Sri Lankan navy. The navy has been more recently implicated in attacks on Tamil civilians and blocking access to fishing grounds for local Tamil fishermen.
Whilst Gunaratne claimed he would protect archaeological sites irrespective of religion and ethnicity however Sri Lankan authorities have often turned a blind eye to the vandalization of non-Buddhist monuments.
Read more from the Sri Lankan Defence website.