Colombo – A Buddhist cleric accused of inciting violence against Muslims in Myanmar says he is joining forces with a group in Sri Lanka to fight what he says is the “serious threat from jihadist groups”.
Ashin Wirathu, the leader of Myanmar’s 969 group, told hundreds of monks in the Sri Lankan capital on Sunday that his group would support the Bodu Bala Sena group in its “struggle to protect Buddhism in Asia”.
Muslim groups had protested against Wirathu’s entry into Sri Lanka, saying his visit would only cause further divisions. His group has been accused of inciting violence against the minority Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
“To protect and defend the threatened Buddhist the world over, my 969 movement will join hands with the BBS,” Wirathu said at a 5,000-seat stadium packed with monks and their lay supporters.
Buddhists are facing a serious threat today from jihadist groups.
“Buddhists are facing a serious threat today from jihadist groups,” he said, without giving details. “The patience of Buddhists is seen as a weakness. Buddhist temples have been destroyed. There is a jihad against Buddhist monks.”
The president of the Bodu Bala Sena, Kirima Wimalajothi, told the meeting that Sri Lanka was “not a multi-cultural country but rather a nation for the Sinhala Buddhists” and threatened to topple the government unless it stopped “Muslim extremism”.
He added that a policy statement compiled by the group would be presented to the Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and that it would act to remove him if he failed to implement the changes.
The group’s general secretary, Galaboda aththe Gnanasara, urged the monks to “return to the temples and rally the people”, and said the government had a week to answer the group’s demands before it acted.
Muslims leaders on Friday petitioned Rajapaksa to request that Wirathu be refused a visa on the basis that he had been accused of inciting violence in Myanmar. No official response was given to the request.
Azath Salley, leader of the Muslim Tamil National Alliance, told Al-Jazeera that Wirathu’s visit would only serve to cause further divisions in the country.
“The government’s willingness to provide Wirathu with a visa shows they have ulterior motives in relation to the minorities,” he said.
“Wirathu promotes violence against minorities, an issue that Sri Lanka is trying to move past. His presence will harm any form of reconciliation taking place”.