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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 17:29 GMT
Armed guards for Sri Lanka church
Damage at the Sri Lanka church
A mob of about 20 men attacked the church
Armed guards have been posted at a church near Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, after the latest in a series of anti-Christian attacks.

A mob of about 20 men smashed statues and set fire to bibles at the church in Mattegoda on Monday night.

Last week the Sri Lankan president said there had been more than 30 attacks on churches since November, but Christian groups put it at double that.

About 7.5% of Sri Lankans are Christians while 70% practise Buddhism.

This new trend of attacks comes after some Buddhist clergy launched a campaign against what they say are unethical conversions by Christian groups.

We saw this coming because several other churches had been attacked recently
Srahi Bongso, church director

In the latest attack, on the Church of Our Mother Most Pure, the mob of attackers drove up armed with clubs and wearing a uniform of black shorts and sarongs with white shirts and black bandanas.

No one was injured because the church was empty but the mob smashed several statues of saints in glass cabinets and set fire to bibles and hymn books.

Nobody has been arrested but the local police chief said he believed the attackers were drunks.

The lay director of the church, Srahi Bongso, said there had been no problem with the Buddhist community for years.

But she added: "I could say we saw this coming because several other churches had been attacked recently."

Blind eye

Anti-Christian violence began with attacks against evangelical churches whom the Buddhist clergy accused of conducting unethical conversions but it has now spread to attacks on mainstream Catholics.

Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka
About 70% of Sri Lankans practise Buddhism

The attackers have stoned pastors' houses at night, assaulted church workers, issued death threats and pressured several churches to close down.

Church members say anti-Christian posters have sprung up, accusing them of being rebel Tamil Tiger sympathisers.

Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga has warned that anyone involved in sparking religious tension will be dealt with strictly but has also said she has heard that in some cases the police are turning a blind eye.

Some Buddhist monks have been calling for a law to ban "unethical conversions" - offering cash to the poor to become Christians.

Christian groups deny the allegations.

Anti-Christian violence was exacerbated by the death last month of the monk Gangodavila Soma, who spearheaded the drive against conversions.

Conspiracy theories arose despite an autopsy that said he died of a heart attack.


SEE ALSO:
Sri Lankan churches 'under guard'
29 Dec 03  |  South Asia
Sri Lanka's uneasy peace
14 Aug 02  |  Crossing Continents
Sri Lanka: The ethnic divide
16 May 00  |  South Asia
Country profile: Sri Lanka
04 Nov 03  |  Country profiles


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