The Sri Lankan government has imposed a curfew in a popular tourist town after days of unrest between religious communities with a spate of Muslim businesses being torched by Buddhist mobs.
Police confirmed yesterday that there had been arson attacks and riots in the weekend in Kandy district, while other media outlets have reported that violence had spread throughout the across the country.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said: “The curfew was imposed to control the situation in the area.”
The government said in a statement that police officers were placed on high alert in Kandy to ensure the “situation does not spiral into inter-communal conflagration”.
Buddhist mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country.
Local officials said more than two dozen suspects had been arrested by police in relation with the string of arson attacks, while senior officers also launched an investigation into the conduct of the police.
Rajith Keerthi Tennakoon, executive director of the Centre for Human Rights Sri Lanka, condemned the “unfathomable police inefficiency” that he said led to the violence.
Mr Tennakoon told Al Jazeera: “Social media pages rallied Sinhalese mobs to assemble in Teldeniya town at 10am. At 11am, there was a proclivity for violent confrontations to take place as mobs gathered. The destruction of Muslim properties started taking place from around 1pm.”
Kandy is the latest region to be plagued by ethnic and religious violence in Sri Lanka.
Najah Mohamed, secretary of the National Front for Good Governance party in Sri Lanka, told Al Jazeera attacks are spreading all over the country, and not just in Kandy.
He said: “We are facing the same situation that we had experienced with the previous government with tension, hate, and violence against Muslims are rampant especially where they are a dispersed community.”
Ethnic and religious conflict can turn deadly in Sri Lanka, where Muslims make up for 10 percent of the population and Buddhists Sinhalese account for 75 percent.
Some observers blame the hardline Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) group for the ongoing violence.
Mr Mohamed said: “The violent BBS mobs manipulated the situation to fuel attacks against Muslims in an unprecedented way and started attacking people. In the afternoon the police and curfew were here, but there are still rising underreported incidents taking place.”
President Maithripala Siresena had promised to investigate anti-Muslim violence after coming into power in 2015, but no significant progress has been made.
Both Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and Sirsena are yet to make an official statement in response to the recent unrest.