The Sri Lankan government has extended curfews in the south-western region of Aluthgama after a violent Buddhist mob murdered three Muslims and burned dozens of homes, shops and mosques in the latest outbreak of religious violence.
Community and religious leaders blamed the authorities for doing nothing to prevent Sunday night’s violence. The most senior Muslim parliamentarian of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has threatened to resign after the decision to allow radical extremist Buddhists to rally through predominantly Muslim areas.
The justice minister, Rauf Hakeem, said after he visited the affected towns of Aluthgama and Beruwala: “Three deaths have occurred and 78 people have been seriously wounded in the mob attacks … Places of Muslim religious worship have also been attacked with total impunity.
Referring to the militant group “Buddhist First” he added that “the government allowed the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to hold their gathering and therefore they must take responsibility for what has happened.”
Hakeem told media outlets he was under pressure from his supporters to quit the government in protest at the failure to prevent the attacks, the latest in a series of violent incidents involving the BBS.
Violence erupted on Sunday night when followers of the BBS held a rally over a road rage incident. After stones were allegedly thrown at them, the BBS supporters rampaged through the two towns, attacking people on the street and setting fire to property. Many mosques and Muslim businesses were looted and torched. So far five Muslims have been killed and more than a hundred injured.
Local residents said police did little to protect them when the Buddhist mobs initiated their attack in the mainly Muslim populated towns, which are about 37 miles from the capital city of Colombo. Police fired teargas and imposed a night-time curfew but the violence continued for several hours.
Police said on Monday the situation had calmed down but the curfew would remain in place for a second night. “The situation is largely under control, but the curfew was extended as a precaution,” a police source told AFP.
Both towns are popular beach resorts frequented by international tourists, but there were no reports of foreigners or hotels being caught up in the violence.
Rajapaksa said in a statement that he would not allow “anyone to take the law into their own hands” and urged restraint.
The attacks are the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island after unrest in January and also last year when Buddhist mobs attacked a mosque in Colombo.
The BBS leader, Buddhist monk Galagodaatte Gnanasara, is on bail after being arrested in May on a charge of insulting the Qur’an. He is also accused of intimidating lawyers watching the interests of Muslim groups in that case.
The latest unrest came weeks after Muslim legislators asked Rajapaksa to protect their community from “Buddhist extremist elements”.
Muslims make up about 10% of Sri Lanka’s population of 20 million.