COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's government is investigating the death of a Buddhist monk who set himself on fire last week, saying journalists knew in advance of his plans and could have alerted authorities.
Bowatte Indraratana died over the weekend after setting himself on fire Friday near the famed Temple of Buddha's Tooth Relic in the central town of Kandy. The 30-year-old was the first monk to self-immolate in Sri Lanka.
The Media Ministry said Monday that the monk could have been saved if media personnel had informed authorities about his intentions.
A statement on the ministry's website said the ministry had launched an investigation "following information that the monk had reportedly given a statement to local media about his intention to kill himself by setting himself on fire" to protest against a cattle slaughter.
It said police are probing the incident and have "recorded statements from several reporters who were present at the time the monk divulged his plans."
Police spokesman could not be reached for immediate comment.
Media ministry secretary Charitha Herath was quoted as saying on the website that the monk's life could have been saved "had the local media personnel concerned informed the law enforcement authorities about the monk's intended action."
The monk died of severe burns after suffering injuries to over 95 percent of his body.
The monk was a member of the Sinhala Ravaya (Voice of Sinhala), a hardline Buddhist rights group which protested on Sunday in Colombo against the government's decision to send the monk's body to his village 100 kilometers (about 60 miles) from Colombo. The group wanted the body to be kept in Colombo so they could pay their respects.
The president of the group, Akmeemana Dayaratana, said Indraratana killed himself because the authorities ignored his requests to ban the cattle slaughter." We will continue his struggle and soon launch a countrywide campaign to demand the ban of cattle slaughter."
Buddhism, Sri Lanka's state religion, opposes the killing of any life. Nearly 75 percent of Sri Lankans are Buddhists. Many Buddhists in Sri Lanka do eat meat, but most avoid beef because they consider cows sacred.
The monk's self-immolation last Friday came as the Sri Lankan Buddhists were celebrating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and the passing away which fell on May 24.