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Cablegate: Muslim Leaders Voice Concerns About Land Rights

VZCZCXRO3992
OO RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #1387/01 2820628
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 090628Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6938
INFO RUEHRL/AMEMBASSY BERLIN PRIORITY 0547
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001387

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS
MCC FOR D NASSIRY AND E BURKE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: MUSLIM LEADERS VOICE CONCERNS ABOUT LAND RIGHTS
AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

REF: A. COLOMBO 1106

B. COLOMBO 977

1. (U) SUMMARY: On October 2, Ambassador hosted prominent
Muslim leaders for a roundtable discussion on Muslim issues
to mark the holy month of Ramadan. Participants noted the
absence of Al-Qaida and other radical Islamist terror groups
but expressed concern about a growing Wahhabi presence, and
the need to address social problems within the Muslim
community before radical ideas begin to resonate with the
youth. Participants expressed concern about land rights for
Muslims in both the Eastern Province and the North-Western
Province. Despite historically good relations with both
Hindus and Buddhists, Muslims now face some resistance to
their activities, even in Colombo. For the most part,
however, they remained optimistic about relations between
Muslims and both Sinhalese and Tamils and confident that Sri
Lankan Muslims would remain moderate and peaceful.
Ambassador assured the Muslim leaders that the U.S. is paying
close attention to religious freedom and other concerns
raised during the discussion and regularly encourages the GSL
to listen to and address the concerns of the Muslim
community. End Summary.

2. (U) On October 2, Ambassador hosted prominent Muslim
leaders for a roundtable discussion on Muslim issues.
Participants included Principal of Zahira College T.K. Azoor,
former Attorney General Shibly Aziz, Chairman of the Muslim
Peace Secretariat A.M.M. Faaiz, and Chairman of the Islamic
Center of Sri Lanka M.H. Mohamed.

Wahhabi Influence Growing
------------------------

3. (U) Participants noted that Islam in Sri Lanka has
traditionally been both moderate and peaceful. Lately,
however, they observe a growing Wahhabi presence, based
mostly in the town of Kattankudy in Eastern Province.
Fortunately, they said, there are not yet any "jihadi" groups
present in Sri Lanka. Muslim leaders have made a point of
teaching youth to "shun this path." They expressed a concern
however, that if social problems within the Muslim community
are not addressed, radical ideas may begin to resonate. The
growing influence of the Wahhabis has led to intra-religous
tensions and increased intolerance of minority Muslim sects
such as the Sufis.

Concerns About Land and Property Rights
----------------------------------------

4. (U) Participants expressed concern about land rights for
Muslims. They are being pushed by "both sides" (i.e.,
Sinhalese and Tamils) in the East, they said. Earlier, the
LTTE took Muslim lands, and now, the Sinhalese are working to
reduce the presence and influence of Muslims in the East. In
the North-Western Province town of Puttalam, thousands of
internally displaced persons from the early 1990s remain in
camps, mainly Tamils evicted by the LTTE from Jaffna. Many
are unable to get land for housing or obtain business
licenses.

Facing New Levels of Discrimination from Buddhists
--------------------------------------------- -----

5. (U) Historically, Muslims have had good relations with
both Hindus and Buddhists in Sri Lanka. According to some
participants, however, the Sinhalese community feels
threatened now and is reacting against Muslims. In Colombo,
they said, there is resistance to construction of new
mosques. They are unable to obtain permits to build, and if

COLOMBO 00001387 002 OF 002


they use homes as mosques, neighbors complain. They noted
that the Government is using policies such as a proposed new
noise ordinance to limit Muslim activities. Under the new
law, they would not be allowed to issue the call to prayer
over loudspeakers.

U.S. Sensitive to Muslim Issues
---------------------------------

6. (U) Ambassador assured the Muslim leaders that the U.S.
is paying close attention to the concerns raised during the
discussion. He noted that the Embassy is regularly
encourages the GSL to listen to and address the concerns of
the Muslim community and to solicit direct input from local
communities when making policy decisions, particularly on
sensitive issues like land rights.

7. (SBU) COMMENT: The roundtable participants seemed eager
to share their concerns and appreciative of an audience with
the U.S. Embassy. They welcomed U.S. intervention with the
GSL to encourage fair treatment of Muslims. For the most
part, however, they remained optimistic about relations
between Muslims and both Sinhalese and Tamils and confident
that Sri Lankan Muslims would remain moderate and peaceful.
BLAKE

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