Sri Lanka police 'identify church attackers' in Hikkaduwa

church attack Windows, doors, musical instruments were smashed when a mob, led by monks, vandalised the churches

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Police in Sri Lanka say they have identified and intend to arrest 24 people, including eight Buddhist monks, allegedly involved in attacks on two churches on Sunday.

No injuries were reported, but one pastor said he received death threats.

Footage from southern Hikkaduwa town showed monks hurling stones and bricks.

An opposition politician has urged the government to investigate the attacks. Police were at the scene but failed to prevent the assaults.

Police spokesman Ajith Rohana, who had admitted to what he called police "inaction" because of insufficient numbers, said on Monday that legal action would be taken against all people identified as attackers.

He said they would be charged with offences such as vandalism, trespass and unlawful assembly and that an alleged death threat by one of them against a pastor would also be probed.

The pastors of the two independent churches told the BBC that the police on the scene appeared unwilling to restrain the monks but Mr Rohana said charges would be brought against people "irrespective of status".

Arson assault

Video footage aired by a private television station, Derana, showed monks at a building used by an independent church shouting insults in Sinhala, smashing up signs, setting goods alight and hurling stones and what appeared to be a brick.

In further footage released by a Christian group, Pastor Ranjan Perumal of the Calvary Free Church indicated smouldering papers lying by a railway, which he said were burned Bibles and Christian literature.

Windows, doors and musical instruments were also smashed. A senior politician of the main opposition party, Karu Jayasuriya, has urged a full investigation by the government into the "very sad" attacks.

"The government should take steps, corrective actions, to ensure this doesn't happen again," he told the BBC.

He said that he as a Buddhist believed all religious and ethnic groups should coexist peacefully.

Some of the monks allege that the Calvary Free Church and the Assemblies of God are operating illegally. The pastors say they have, indeed, had orders from the government to close. But they say they are registered under an Act of Parliament and are operating legally.

They said they had been subjected to earlier attacks, including a 2003 assault on a woman which is still in the courts. They alleged that some monks involved in earlier assaults were present on Sunday.

At least one further attack on a church was reported early on Sunday - an arson assault on a church near Colombo. The fire was doused before severe damage was done, a Christian organisation said.

The attacks come at a time of resurgent Buddhist nationalism among the majority Sinhalese community on the island.

Hardline Buddhists have also been attacking some Muslim businesses and mosques.

Now attacks on small, independent churches are becoming much more numerous - several were reported at Christmas time - but the events are often downplayed or ignored by the national media.

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