ucanews.com reporters, Kandy and ColomboUpdated: March 20, 2018 04:50 AM GMT
Troops start to clear debris as the first stage of the process to restore the riot-damaged religious venues, businesses and houses owned by Muslims. (Photo by K.W.Nissnka)
Buddhist monks and army troops have begun rebuilding and renovating scores of properties damaged during a series of anti-Muslim riots near Kandy in Sri Lanka's Central Province, an area known for its scenic tea plantations.
The government announced a nationwide state of emergency after two people were killed in the sectarian violence, which also saw nearly 450 Muslim-owned homes and numerous shops damaged.
As racial tensions boiled over, 60 vehicles were torched and more than 20 mosques attacked as violence erupted in key cities across the nation.
Sinhala Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims at their homes, businesses and mosques but security forces said calm has since been restored despite the problems between the two religious groups.
A group of Buddhist monks and army troops started to clear the debris as the first stage of the process to restore religious venues, places of business and damaged houses on March 16.
Venerable Pilhatha Mahanama Thera, the chief monk of Rajagalla Ranthatipokuna Buddhist Temple, joined another 10 monks in clearing away the rubble from damaged mosques, homes and Muslim-owned shops.
As troops helped record and clear up the damage, the Muslim Local Council said victims will be compensated by the government with immediate effect. (Photo by K.W.Nissnka)
"More than 250 people including army personnel and Buddhist monks have teamed up for this project," the Venerable Mahanama Thera said. "If we all do what we can, we can move toward reconciliation and find our own way to contribute to the [healing]," he told ucanews.com.
"We are helping Muslims to rebuild after the unrest, in the interests of greater mutual understanding," he added.
"I was very saddened to see this. We are deeply concerned about those who came here from other areas to carry out the riots, but as Buddhist monks we stand in solidarity with the Muslims," he said.
In recent years, hard-line Buddhist groups like Mahasohon Balakaya, Bodu Bala Sena and Ravana Balaya have preached hatred against Muslims and warned of a growing Muslim population in Sri Lanka.
Across the country, rights activists have also urged caution regarding the growing wave of religious intolerance and extremism.
Many Muslim families have sought out private security guards or other forms of protection as they fear for their safety.
Cader Mohamed Nijam, a member of the Muslim Local Council, said more than 200 army personnel were called in to clear the debris.
The damaged workplaces, homes and places of worship were in a relatively contained area just east of Kandy. The ruined buildings stretched from the village of Digana to Kengalla, a distance of several kilometers.
"The first stage of the cleaning work took place at Digana Mosque, which was attacked by Buddhist mobs. We also cleaned up 30 houses that were vandalized," Nijam told ucanews.com.
"Those who were affected by the riots are eligible for immediate compensation from the Ministry of Prison Reforms, Rehabilitation, Resettlement and Hindu Religious Affairs," he added.