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Tensions flare in Mullaitivu as Buddhist monk storms Tamil Pongal festival

A group of Sinhala villagers led by a Buddhist monk disrupted a Thai Pongal celebration at a Hindu temple in Mullaitivu last week, as tensions continued to flare in the area with the construction of a large Buddha statue.

Semmalai locals had attempted to hold a pongal celebration at the Neeraviyadi Pillaiyar Temple when a group of over 40 people, led by a Sinhala Buddhist monk, interrupted festivities and demanded they be halted.

The Sri Lankan military and police swiftly attended the scene, in the Karaiththuraipattu division in Mullaitivu, as tensions escalated, with the Sinhala group demanding the Tamil Thai Pongal celebration be stopped.

The Sinhala group is currently engaged in constructing a large Buddha statue that encroaches on the generations old Hindu temple. The construction, is reportedly being supported by Sri Lanka’s archaeological department.

Though Tamil villagers attempted to mediate the situation, local journalists who were at the scene reported being photographed by Sri Lankan police officials, in apparent attempts of intimidation.

Locals said the Hindu temple had been there for generations and that Tamils had worshipped there until the very final stages of the war when they had become displaced. Worship activities had not resumed after the war due to the locals’ fear of the surrounding army camps.

In 2013, a Sinhala Buddhist monk from Maradana – Colombe Medalange – had with the help of the Sri Lankan army, set up a hut on the occupied temple’s land and taken up residence there.