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Cablegate: Fonseka Arrest Prompts Buddhist Clergy Concerns For

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DE RUEHLM #0140/01 0570156
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 260156Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1364
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 2450
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 9466
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 7722
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 5458
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3889
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO 0044
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RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 0027
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 7261
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO 0239
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0151
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 000140

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM CE
SUBJECT: FONSEKA ARREST PROMPTS BUDDHIST CLERGY CONCERNS FOR
DEMOCRACY

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Fonseka arrest has led to a rift between the
Rajapaksa leadership and the four mahanayakas (chief monks) of the
largest Buddhist sects. The arrest sparked the monks to raise
broader issues of democratic governance and to call a Sangha Sabha
(council of clergy) to discuss the situation. But the council was
indefinitely postponed after the monks received bomb threats.
Government apologists retaliated by promising that 500 temples would
be split off from the main Buddhist sect and re-aligned with a
lesser-known sect from the Rajapaksas' home region in the south.
END SUMMARY.

MONKS' STATEMENT CALLS ARREST UNJUSTIFIED
-----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) On February 14, Mahanayake of Asgiriya Rev. Udugama Sri
Buddharakkitha, Mahanayake of Malwatte Rev. Thibbotuwawe Sri
Sumangala, Mahanayake of Ramanna Nikaya Rev. Weveldeniye
Medhalankara, and Mahanayaka of Amarapura Nikaya Rev Divuldena
Gnanissara in a joint statement said the arrest of Fonseka was
unjustified and unacceptable. The rough way the arrest of Fonseka
was conducted prompted the mahanayake of Asgiriya (Temple of the
Tooth) chapter to say "he (Fonseka) has done much for the country,
and the way it was done cannot be approved." The mahanayaka of the
Malawatte Chapter went further to criticize attacks on journalists
and the current state of democracy in the country.

3. (SBU) These statements were followed by a call for a Sangha Sabha
(council of clergy) by monks of all four sects at Kandy on February
18, which was to have assembled hundreds of monks from temples
across the island. (NOTE: In the recorded history of over two
thousand years of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, there have been very few
such councils of monks. A Sangha Sabha was summoned only when the
king exceeded his limits, and the monks felt duty-bound to ask for
good governance. END NOTE.)

THREATS FORCE CANCELLATION OF MONKS' COUNCIL
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Statements by the monks criticizing the Fonseka arrest and
warning that democracy on the island was at risk reportedly enraged
the Rajapaksas. Two days before the Sangha Sabha was to open,
Buddhist contacts from the provinces informed us that temples had
been told that bombs would be hurled at buses transporting monks to
the council. On February 16, the mahanayake of Malwatte announced
the assembly had been indefinitely postponed due to security
concerns. General Secretary of the main opposition UNP Tissa
Attanayake claimed government ministers were directly involved in
threatening the mahanayakas to stop the Sangha Sabha.

RAJAPKSAS SEEK OWN BUDDHIST SECT
--------------------------------

5. (SBU) Government apologists then made it known that the
government would retaliate against the Malwatte chapter (its
mahanayaka led the call for convening the Sangha Sabha) by removing
500 southern province temples (of the central province-based
Malwatte chapter) and re-aligning these temples with the
lesser-known Rohana sect of the south (the political home turf of
the Rajapaksas). They also discussed the creation of another major
Buddhist sect with its loyalties to the Rajapaksas.

BACKGROUND ON BUDDHIST SECTS
----------------------------

6. (SBU) The Siyam Nikaya (high-ordination clergy of the Asgiriya
and Malwatte chapters) has been the guardian of orthodox Buddhism
for over a thousand years. The Asgiriya chapter is the older and
holds the Kandy tooth relic of the Buddha, which was regarded as the
symbol of sovereignty of Sri Lankan rulers. The Malwatte chapter is
the largest Buddhist sect in Sri Lanka. Both the Asgiriya and
Malwatte chapters permit higher ordination only to those of the
Govigama caste (to which the Rajapaksas belong). The Amarapura and
Ramanna Nikayas were founded in the late eighteen century to open

COLOMBO 00000140 002 OF 002


higher ordination to those of the non-Govigama caste (to which
Fonseka belongs). These two nikayas were founded on the initiative
of Colonel Henry Steele Olcott of the United States, a theosophist
who led a Buddhist revival in colonial Ceylon.

COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) Contacts have told us that the monks' rebellion against the
Rajapaksas was unprecedented insofar as the monks disregarded their
traditional caste differences to come together against what they saw
as abuses by the Rajapaksas. The significance of this step can
hardly be over-estimated. President Rajapaksa has often made highly
publicized visits to temples and has relied on the support of the
mainstream Buddhist clergy. That the clergy now has so publicly
registered its dissatisfaction with the country's governance is an
indication of the deep rifts within the Sinhala majority community.
Religious-freedom experts told us that the Buddhist clergy was
perhaps closer to the pulse of the rural masses than anyone. "They
summoned a Sangha Sabha with the full knowledge of the hurt feelings
of the Sinhalese. They have only postponed the Sangha Sabha."

BUTENIS

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