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Sri Lankan minister leads Buddhist landgrab of Tamil temple

The Sri Lankan government has intervened on behalf of Buddhist monks in their attempt to seize the site of an ancient Tamil temple in Mullaitivu.

Vidura Wickramanayaka, Sri Lanka's state minister for 'national heritage', accompanied by army soldiers and archaeology department officers, led an event on Monday at Kurunthoormalai in which a new Buddha statue was placed and consecrated at the site of the Athi Aiyanar temple.

The temple site, on a hilltop in the Kumulamunai area of  Mullaitivu, has been the target of intense landgrab efforts by Sinhala Buddhist monks, met with fierce resistance from locals which in 2018 led to a court order decreeing that no changes could be made to the site. The court also stated that the archaeology department had abused its power in allowing Buddhist monks to survey the area.

The placing of a Buddha statue at the site directly contravenes the court order against changes to the site. The archaeology department has also claimed presence of Buddhist artefacts in the area and announced the intention to excavate the area.

While Tamils have been resisting several attempts at landgrabs and Sinhalisation across the North-East, and particularly in Mullaitivu, fronted by state agencies such as the archaeology department and forest department, the minister's presence in Monday's landgrab represents the first time the Sri Lankan government has openly demonstrated its involvement in the colonisation.

The event was held despite police using coronavirus restrictions to prevent public gatherings in the North. Tamil journalists in Mullaitivu were banned from the event by police and continue to be threatened by the Sri Lankan military.

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