Sri Lanka’s president Gotabaya Rajapakasa, has announced an all Sinhala task force, which includes Buddhist monks and the head of the Derana media network, to “preserve the historical heritage of Sri Lanka” in the island’s Eastern province.
The announcement, made through a gazette release this morning, comes after the president met with the Buddhist Maha Sanga last week to discuss Buddhist sites in the East.
The Sri Lankan military sent a high level delegation to the province last month, including the war crimes accused army head and defence secretary, where they pledged to establish a naval sub-unit to protect Buddhist sites.
The Eastern province, which has been claimed by the Tamil people as being historically inhabited by Tamils, has come under decades of intense Sinhalisation and colonisation from state sponsored settlement schemes. In recent years, the state has used the guise of ‘archaeology’ to take over vast areas of lands in the North-East, and mark them as ‘Buddhist sites’. The US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2016 said that the construction of such sites and Buddhist statues in non-Buddhist areas in the North-East, despite objections from locals and leaving civil society with the perception of “Buddhist Sinhalese religious and cultural imperialism”.
“There is a growing danger that these heritages are becoming degraded with time due to natural and man-made action,” claimed the gazette that announced the task force this morning. It is being asked to “identify sites of archaeological importance in the Eastern Province”.
Tamils have also voiced fears about further appropriation of land by the state through the task force, as the gazette announced the body would be able to “identify the extent of land that should be allocated for such archaeological sites and take necessary measures to allocate them properly and legally”.
“The Presidential Task Force on Archaeological Heritage Management in the Eastern Province may issue instructions or request that all Government Officers and other persons requesting assistance in the provision of services comply with such instructions,” the gazette concluded.
See the full text of the gazette here.