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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Christian Pastor Recounts June Attack

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001153

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: CHRISTIAN PASTOR RECOUNTS JUNE ATTACK

REF: COLOMBO 921

------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) Poloffs and POL FSN traveled to Ambalangoda in Galle
district on June 28 to follow up a reported attack on an
Assembly of God property on June 5 and 6. Pastor Yogesh
Mudalige of the Assembly of God church complained that
police, despite being made aware of the June 5 attack, failed
to prevent the June 6 attack, or to offer adequate protection
to the pastor and his family from the attackers. As of the
date of poloffs' visit to Ambalangoda, the pastor was unable
to safely occupy or use the new property. The June 5-6
attack is one of several dozen against Christian
organizations that have occurred over the past year.
Although several arrests were made in this particular case,
general police reluctance to pursue such cases helps foster
an atmosphere of impunity for the perpetrators of such
attacks. END SUMMARY.

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ATTACK ON THE AOG
-----------------

2. (U) On June 28, poloffs and POL FSN visited Pastor
Yogesh Mudalige and his brother Suresh, of the Assembly of
God (AOG) church at their residence in Ambalangoda in Galle
district. Pastor Yogesh's current residence also serves as
the location for AOG church services, where the typical
congregation size is approximately 100 persons. Pastor
Yogesh's new property, which was to serve as a personal
residence and a non-religious community center, incorporating
both a preschool and computer training center, was attacked
on June 5 and 6 by local villagers.

3. (U) According to Yogesh, on the evening of June
5--three days after he acquired the property--some villagers
began throwing bottles at the house. The pastor informed the
police and although the police allowed him to file a
complaint, they did not immediately investigate the
disturbance.

4. (U) On the morning of June 6, the pastor and his
brother were installing a bathroom in the new property when a
crowd of approximately 30 approached them and began an
argument. The villagers reportedly warned the pastor not to
build a church on the new property and attacked the house,
breaking the windows and tearing down the fence. (Comment:
While no monks were present during the attacks, the pastor
and his brother allege that the attack was planned at the
local Buddhist temple and that the local head monk was
responsible for instigating the mob. End Comment.) The mob
grew larger and assaulted the pastor, his brother, and the
assistant pastor Suresh Pereira, causing all three men to
seek medical attention for their injuries.

5. (U) The pastor's brother told poloffs that while they
were being assaulted, members of the mob attempted to strip
Pastor Yogesh, and in the process stole his wallet, which
contained SLR 27,000 ($270), his mobile phone, and another
SLR 200,000 ($2,000) from the pastor's vehicle--funds donated
to the pastor by U.S. based Mercy Works for the new property.
By the time the police arrived on the scene, the three men
had already been taken to the hospital. The pastor told
poloffs that they were released from the hospital the next
day, despite having continued difficulty walking. The pastor
filed another formal case against the mob, naming 19 of his
attackers for the police.

--------------------
POLICE ON THE SCENE
--------------------

6. (U) During a June 28 meeting, Inspector M.C. Herath of
the Ambalangoda police department told poloffs that the
pastor and his brother identified only six of their
attackers. On June 7, the Ambalangoda police arrested those
6, all of whom were later released on bail. Herath told
poloffs that during the arrest, a mob of 80-100, some of whom
were members of the local provincial council, urged him not
to arrest anyone. Herath also told poloffs that when he went
to visit the new property he found pro-Buddhist slogans
written on the door, such as "Buddhism is the true religion,"
damage to the fence and windows, and a Buddha statue, a
sacred Bo tree sapling, and lamps scattered throughout the
property. (Comment: Poloffs confirmed the damage and graffiti
at the new property. End Comment.) The pastor told poloffs
he had to call higher authorities in Colombo in order to get
the Ambalangoda police to remove the statue, the sapling, and
the lamps from the grounds. A hearing on the case is
scheduled for November 28. (Comment: Hearings are typically
scheduled closer to the date of the incident. That the
hearing is scheduled almost six months from the date of the
crime could suggest some undue influence on behalf of the
suspected attackers. End Comment.)

7. (U) While the pastor continues to hold church services
at his home without disturbance, both Inspector Herath and
the pastor told poloffs it was currently unsafe to return to
the new property. Inspector Herath and the pastor are
attempting to organize an interfaith meeting, which would
include the other Christian pastors from the district,
members of the Buddhist community, and the police, so that
the grievances of all parties can be heard, and so that
Pastor Yogesh can safely return to the newly-purchased
property.

---------
COMMENT
---------

8. (U) This attack is one of several dozen against
Christian organizations that have occurred in Sri Lanka over
the past year. (Reftel describes a May attack in the same
district). While police made several arrests in this
particular case, general police unwillingness to pursue these
cases helps create an atmosphere of impunity for the
perpetrators of these acts. If the proposed meeting between
the Buddhists in the village and the Christian pastors
occurs, it could help to clear the air between the two
communities in the village, so that both can coexist without
fear of "unethical" conversion or persecution. We will
continue to monitor the progress of this case. END COMMENT.
LUNSTEAD

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