Anti-Muslim riots signal deeper malaise
Fears are growing in Sri Lanka that communal violence will break out again following the worst clashes in five years, leaving at least two dead and over 80 injured. On 15 June clashes between Muslim community members and hardline Buddhist groups broke out in Dharga Town, a Muslim-majority town in the southern Kalutara District, about 60km from the capital Colombo.
This time, instead of clashes between Buddhists and Hindus, the tension is growing between Muslims and Buddhists. The country endured a 25-year civil war that killed an estimated 80,000-100,000 people on both sides before it ended in May 2009 with the destruction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam.
“There is a real risk of violence spreading elsewhere unless the government acts immediately,” said David Griffiths, Asia-Pacific deputy director at Amnesty International. “This is an issue that has been brewing for some time and that should have been addressed long ago,” he said, pointing to a history of tension in the lead-up to the 15 June violence, which saw two days of riots by the hardline Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (“Buddhist Force” – BBS) following a rally in the town of Aluthgama, 5 km from Dharga Town.
Ajith Rohana, a police spokesperson, said 50 people had been arrested on suspicion of taking part in the riots. “We are conducting investigations into what took place and who was responsible,” he said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the violence on 16 June, adding: “I am very concerned this violence could spread to Muslim communities in other parts of the country… The authorities must immediately bring the perpetrators of such attacks to book and make it clear… that there is no place for inflammatory rhetoric and incitement to violence.”
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