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Sri Lanka remands militant monk for attacking refugees

AFP

Sri Lankan guards escort Buddhist monk Akmeemana Dayarathana after he was remanded in custody

Sri Lankan guards escort Buddhist monk Akmeemana Dayarathana after he was remanded in custody (AFP Photo/LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI)

A Sri Lankan court on Monday remanded in custody a Buddhist monk charged with leading a mob which evicted Rohingya refugees, including 16 children, from a UN-protected shelter.

A magistrate ordered that Akmeemana Dayarathana be held for a week pending an identification parade in connection with last Tuesday's attack on a refugee centre near Colombo.

Police told the court in Mount Lavinia that the monk was a member of an unlawful assembly, obstructed police and caused disaffection among peaceful Buddhists.

"Peace-loving Buddhists were shocked to see a saffron-robed monk behaving so badly," a prosecuting police officer told AFP. "We are charging the monk for causing distress to Buddhists."

The raid on the refugee centre, which housed 31 Rohingya refugees, was led by Dayarathana's radical Sinhale Jathika Balamuluwa (Sinhalese National Force), which uploaded videos of the attack on their Facebook page.

Several other people, including monks, were seen on the video urging supporters to destroy the refugee facility.

Dozens of men and women led by monks stormed the building and smashed windows and furniture. Police eventually rescued the refugees who had huddled in upstairs rooms.

Five men and a woman arrested over the weekend were also remanded in custody until October 9.

The government of the Buddhist-majority country has accused the monks of behaving like "animals" during the attack, which left two police officers injured.

The refugees arrived in Sri Lanka five months ago after the navy found them drifting in a boat off the north coast.

Before that, they had been living in India for several years.

More than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar in recent years. While most are in refugee camps in Bangladesh, a sizeable minority have moved to other parts of South Asia.

The Rohingya have been the target of decades of state-backed persecution and discrimination in mainly Buddhist Myanmar, where many view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Extremist Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have close links with ultra-nationalist counterparts in Myanmar. Both have been accused of orchestrating violence against minority Muslims.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has expressed alarm over last Tuesday's attack.

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