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Calls for calm as tension rises in Sri Lanka

Government urged to act quickly to stop people spreading religious hatred after clashes between Buddhists and Muslims

ucanews.com reporters, Kandy and Colombo

ucanews.com reporters, Kandy and Colombo

Published: March 07, 2018 10:37 AM GMT

Updated: March 07, 2018 10:50 AM GMT

Calls for calm as tension rises in Sri Lanka

Soldiers inspect an attacked mosque in Digana in Kandy on March 6. (ucanews.com photo)

Activists and civil society organizations have urged Sri Lanka's government to take firm action against those who advocate national, racial and religious hatred.

The government on March 6 declared a nationwide state of emergency for 10 days after religious violence in Kandy. A police curfew has been imposed in the Kandy administrative district until further notice.

Many Muslim-owned businesses, shops and houses have been set on fire in recent days. Hundreds of police and military have been deployed in Kandy, 160 kilometers from capital Colombo.

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Similar anti-Muslim violence erupted in the east of Sri Lanka last week.

Cader Mohamed Nijam, a Muslim local government council member and a resident of Kumbukkandura in Kandy, said hundreds of military have been deployed in the area.

"In the Akurana and Ambathanna areas, Sinhalese have forcibly stopped Muslim youths," said Nijam.

"Even during the curfew [on March 6] in the Manikhinna area, a shop and a mosque were attacked. Up to now 10 mosques, 25 houses and 50 shops have been attacked in the Kandy district.

"A curfew has been imposed and people can't go out to do their day-to-day activities and to buy things. Many of the victims are without food."

Nijam said some villagers from other areas have sent food parcels.

"As Muslims, we are really in a scary situation and it seems it will spread to all the Muslim areas in the country. A mosque and Muslim businesses were attacked following a rumor in Ampara district last week," he said.

"A mob came to attack my village on March 5 but they were chased. No internet access is available in the area."

Inoma Karunatilake, of the Rule of Law Forum Kandy, said that even though the government has declared a state of emergency, the situation is bad in the Digana, Teldeniya, Abathenna, Katugastota and Aladeniya areas of Kandy district.

Villagers reported hearing gunshots on the night of March 6 when a shed belonging to a Muslim in Alawathugoda was set alight during the curfew.

"They all live with fear — how can these people including children overcome their trauma?" said Karunatilake.

"Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil ethnic groups have lived very peacefully without having any discrimination as brothers and sisters in Kandy for a long time. People who came from outside created an unwanted issue in the area and broke the peace of these areas."

She said the government should enforce the law very strictly without any favors and Sri Lankans should learn a lesson from the past that all ethnic groups should stand against extremism.

Bodu Bala Sena, a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist organization based in Colombo, held a press conference on March 6 and said it had been unfairly accused over these incidents.

General secretary Galagodaatte Gnanasara Thera said it was deeply concerned and condemned the violence in Kandy. 

A Muslim-owned shop that was set on fire in the Digana area of Kandy on March 7. (ucanews.com photo)


Increase of tensions

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance said communal tensions are spreading across Sri Lanka even as the nation struggles to recover from the civil war (1983 - 2009) that wreaked immeasurable loss and destruction.

It stressed the importance of upholding the rule of law and urged the different communities to abstain from taking the law into their own hands.

"We call upon all communities to come together in defense of communal harmony, pluralism and justice," the alliance said in a statement.

It urged the government to foster peace and harmony among ethnic and religious groups with a zero-tolerance policy toward hate speech and religious violence.

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) said inaction or half-hearted action at this critical time will deepen mistrust, fear and tension within communities, fuel hate and violence and cement a culture of impunity.

"The recent incidents in Kandy and Ampara are not isolated incidents but highlight the persistence and increase of communal tensions in post-war Sri Lanka," it said in a statement.

"These recent events and statements made by individuals inciting racial and religious hatred should not be taken lightly. Immediate action must be taken to arrest this behavior, which actively plays on the fears of people and seeks to channel that fear to harm persons of other ethnic and religious communities."

The CPA said Sri Lanka's president and prime minister must give decisive and unequivocal leadership to prevent any future violence, uphold the rule of law and halt the fast erosion of an increasingly fragile peace in post-war Sri Lanka.

The U.S. embassy said it is important that the government acts quickly against perpetrators of sectarian violence, protects religious minorities and their places of worship, and concludes the state of emergency swiftly while protecting human rights and basic freedoms for all. 

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