Police have arrested 19 people following a clash between members of Sri Lanka’s Buddhist and Muslim communities in which seven people were injured. The government accused extremists of spreading rumors to stir strife. Businesses, houses and vehicles belonging to both communities were damaged during the Nov. 17 unrest at Gintota in the far south of the country. A curfew was imposed Nov. 18. The violence started between Buddhists and Muslims after a minor accident involving a Muslim woman and a motorbike driven by a Buddhist man. There have already been several incidents this year reflecting communal schisms. Hardline Buddhist groups have accused Muslims
of forcing Buddhists to convert to Islam and vandalizing Buddhist archaeological sites. There have also been claims of illegal forest clearing by some Muslims. One Buddhist group attacked the presence at a United Nations safe house of 31 Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council, said communal problems continued despite the military crushing in 2009 of a long-running insurgency by ethnic Tamils. While the problem over the traffic accident in Gintota was settled by those directly involved, others exploited
the situation. Perera noted that many of those arrested were outsiders. There needed to be more programs by government, civil society and religious institutions to promote "inter-ethnic and inter-religious” understanding. The government in particular should activate its network of district religious committees, Perera added. Victim Mohammed Uvais said attackers threw acid at people’s homes. "We left our house at night due to fear,” he related.
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In 2014, three people were killed in clashes in the neighboring coastal town of Aluthgama. More than 2,000 people were displaced and 17 mosques attacked. The Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), a nationalist Buddhist organization based in the capital, Colombo, was accused of instigating the attacks, however nobody was punished. BBS general secretary Gnanasara Thera this week asked the government to form a special committee to investigate the situation in Gintota. Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka warned against the use of propaganda on social media to generate sectarian hatred. Sinhalese Buddhists comprise about 75 percent of the Sri Lanka’s population while Muslims make up about 9 percent.