Sri Lanka imposes state of emergency after communal riots

Al Jazeera News:  

Colombo, Sri Lanka – Sri Lanka’s government has imposed a nationwide state of emergency to “take stern action” against people instigating communal violence, according to a government spokesperson.

The measure follows a local curfew that was imposed on Monday in the central city of Kandy, after days of unrest between religious communities, which was triggered by the death of MG Kumarasinghe, a Buddhist man from Medamahanuwara in Kandy district.

The 41-year-old succumbed to his injuries after being assaulted by a few Muslim youths, who were reportedly under the influence of alcohol.

This incident had taken place over a motor accident a few days ago and was a domestic dispute that was not racial in nature.

Observers report that the family of the victim were compensated and the matter had been amicably settled with the involvement of local Muslim and Buddhist clergy and the family of the victim.

The assailants are currently in police custody.

This was also confirmed by a source from the office of President Maithripala Sirisena, who lauded the efforts of the local residents in settling the matter.

However, violence erupted on Monday in Teldeniya and many Muslim shops were burned to the ground by radical Sinhalese mobs.

Damage has also been inflicted to Muslim homes and mosques, with many vehicles being torched.

Witnesses on the ground estimate that the damage seem similar in proportion to the initial stages of the anti-Muslim violence that took place in Alutgama in 2014.

Police said on Monday there had been riots and arson attacks since the weekend in Kandy district, while sources told Al Jazeera the violence was spreading throughout the country.

In the past, religious and ethnic violence had turned deadly in Sri Lanka, where Muslims account for 10 percent of the 21 million population, and Buddhists Sinhalese make up nearly 75 percent.

Another 13 percent of the population are Hindus.

Speaking on the grounds of anonymity, a senior moulavi [religious leader] from Kandy told Al Jazeera that “senior police officials gave assurances to the Muslim community that law and order will be maintained, however all these violence and damages were inflicted despite these assurances”.

Local observers report the presence in the Kandy district of Ampitiye Sumana, a Buddhist monk from the eastern district of Battacaloa.

Record of aggression

Ampitiye Sumana has a well-documented track record of aggression towards Muslims and Tamils in Eastern Province.

Amith Weerasinghe, leader of the Maha Sohon Balakaya, a radical Sinhalese Buddhist organisation which has been inciting Buddhists against Muslims, was also seen in the district.

Many observers on social media and other sources point to the presence of these two individuals who are allegedly specifically in the area to ignite and escalate racial tensions.

The moulavi went on to state that dozens of properties including Musli- owned shops and homes have been completely torched.

“The Kengalla Jummah Mosque has been completely burned to the ground,” he cried.

At least one death has been reported due to the riots. The body of 24-year-old Abdul Basith was pulled out today from one of the homes that was set on fire on Monday.

In February 2018, five people were wounded and several shops and a mosque were damaged during a clash between Buddhist and Muslim groups.

In June 2014, an anti-Muslim campaign was launched following the deadly Aluthgama riots.

Some hardline Buddhist groups have also accused Muslim groups of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

Many social media commentators have taken to Twitter and Facebook to highlight the importance of maintaining law and order.

The damaging consequences of Sinhalese nationalism and the imperative for it to be stemmed is being discussed widely.

 

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