Sri Lanka nationalists to host controversial Myanmar monk

Sri Lanka's main Buddhist nationalist group on Saturday announced it will host a radical cleric from Myanmar who is accused of fanning religious tensions, at a convention which is already attracting opposition from minority Muslims. Sri Lanka's hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or Buddhist Force, which has been accused of instigating hate attacks on the island, said the Mandalay-based monk Wirathu would be an honoured guest at its convention in Colombo on Sunday. The BBS said Muslim and Catholic groups were trying to block Wirathu's visit. "Racists, extremists and fundamentalists are trying to undermine our international convention," the group said in a statement. Violence against Muslims in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka has increased in the last two years, with hardliners attacking dozens of mosques, shops and homes. The country suffered its worst religious violence in decades this June when riots broke out in the resorts of Aluthgama and Beruwala, leaving four people dead. The BBS has been accused of instigating a string of attacks against mosques, Christian churches and Muslim-owned businesses. The government has denied tacitly supporting the BBS. The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka had warned the authorities that allowing Wirathu to visit "would pose a serious threat to peace in our beloved motherland". The BBS has links with Wirathu's nationalist 969 movement. BBS leader Galagodaatte Gnanasara has been compared to Wirathu, who has been accused of ratcheting up tensions between Buddhists and Muslims in his own country. Gnanasara has described both of them as "peaceful monks with no blood on our hands". Sri Lanka and Myanmar share a common Buddhist heritage and have close cultural ties. In Myanmar, Buddhist-Muslim clashes have left at least 250 people dead and tens of thousands displaced since fighting broke out in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine in 2012.