Monks forced to disrobe in anthrax scare

Borneo Bulletin (AFP), Oct 27, 2004

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka -- Sri Lanka's influential Buddhist clergy Tuesday protested to the Canadian High Commission (embassy) here after staff members disrobed three monks who had triggered an anthrax scare.

Buddhist monk Kotapola Amarakiththi, in a letter to High Commissioner Valerie Raymond, expressed "strong displeasure" at the treatment of the three monks who were forced under a shower after being forcibly disrobed Monday.

"We understand your need to protect against terrorist attacks," the monk said in his letter. "But you must also be aware of the cultural and religious sensibilities in a country where clergy is held in high esteem."

The monk, who is also a member of parliament, demanded an investigation into the incident and sought assurances there will not be a repetition.

Three monks, one Sri Lankan and two Thais, visited the mission Monday to obtain visas. But police said talcum powder in one passport caused diplomats to panic and seize all three of them.

They were forced to disrobe and the passports and robes were sent for forensic tests.

"It is clear that there was no anthrax," a police official said. "If they had, the monks would be dead by now."

The monks told Canadian staff that they had simply placed some talcum powder to prevent silverfish attacking a passport. Police recorded a statement from the monks and allowed them to leave on Monday. The three monks declined comment.