July 12, Colombo: Sri Lanka Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says it is essential to conserve the Dambulla Cave Temple Complex if the historic Buddhist site is to retain its UNESCO World Heritage status and it is up to the Buddhist prelates to decide the fate of the religious site.
Meeting with a group of young Buddhist monks at the Temple Trees today, the Prime Minister spoke about the opposition to a recommendation made by the Archeology Advisory Board to close the historic temple for conservation.
The Prime Minister said the government is dedicated in protecting places of archeological importance and the government has initiated a proper plan to safeguard such places.
He explained that the Dambulla Cave Temple Complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and if not properly maintained the historic site will lose its World Heritage status.
However, if the Maha Nayaka Theras (chief prelates) do not want, the government can stop the conservation plans and the site can be taken off the list. It is up to the Maha sangha, he said.
He said it is unfortunate if the Cave Temple Complex is to lose this status at a time UNESCO is considering the declaration of several other Sri Lankan sites including Horton Plains as world heritage sites.
The Premier said the Chief Prelates can discuss the matter with the UNESCO and consider the options
The Prime Minister said he expects to obtain a report pertaining to the protection of archeological and heritage sites within three weeks.
He expressed concern that some factions are using religious matters in order to gain pity political objectives.
Reportedly, and Education Ministry statement has earlier said that the Archaeological Advisory Board has decided to temporarily close the historic Rangiri Dambulla Cave temple complex for both local and foreign tourists for conservation as it is facing imminent deterioration.
Media reports said the extremist Buddhist groups have vowed not to let the government to close the Dambulla Raja Maha Vihara Complex or any other temple in the country using any international laws.
However, the Ministry of Education today said that there is no truth on the report of closing the Temple. The Ministry clarified that the Archeology Advisory Board recommended a temporary closure of this cave temple for renovation work during the board meeting held recently. However, the decision is not implemented as of this date.