Sri Lanka clarifies fate of destroyed Muslim shrine

The crowd demolishing the shrine (Photo courtesy: Sri Lanka Mirror) The demolition was denounced by both Muslims and Sinhalese (Photo courtesy: Sri Lanka Mirror)

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Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa has clarified earlier reports about the fate of a Muslim shrine destroyed by a crowd of Buddhist monks.

The shrine in the town of Anuradhapura was demolished by the monks earlier this month.

Mr Rajapaksa told the BBC he could not order the structure to be rebuilt, as was reported earlier.

But he criticised the monks' action, which has been condemned by Muslim leaders and opposition figures.

Some who attended a meeting on Monday between Muslim leaders and Mr Rajapaksa came away with the firm impression that he had ordered the rebuilding of the shrine.

But Mr Rajapaksa said that he could only give protection for religious sites where it was sought, and that he was unable to order the shrine to be rebuilt.

He said that issue should be discussed by Muslim and Buddhist leaders and taken to the religious affairs ministry.

Asked what he thought of the destruction of the shrine, the defence secretary said no-one had consented to this act and that people should not take the law into their own hands or harm goodwill between communities.

The monk who led the demolition said he did it because the Muslim shrine, reputed to be several hundred years old, was built on holy Buddhist land.

He said he had persuaded the religious affairs ministry that it should be knocked down but he admitted pre-empting any government action.

Local Muslim leaders have condemned those who attacked the shrine and an opposition politician in the area said the government should punish the perpetrators.

There will be a series of local elections in several areas of Sri Lanka early next month including the capital, Colombo, which has a large Muslim population.

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