Sri Lankan police ask who promoted violence against Muslims

 Reuters International

Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force and Police officers stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Digana, central district of Kandy. REUTERS/Stringer


By Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez

KANDY/COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lankan police said on Friday they were investigating whether 10 suspected ringleaders of a wave of attacks on Muslims by Sinhalese Buddhists had outside funding or foreign help.

The suspected leader of the group, Amith Jeewan Weerasinghe, and nine others were detained on Thursday on suspicion of involvement in attacks on mosques and Muslim-owned properties in the central Kandy district by nationalist crowds.

At least two people have been killed in the clashes, which began on Sunday.

“We are investigating who funded them, their future plans, and whether they have any local political leadership and whether there was any foreign involvement behind this,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara told reporters in Colombo.

He said all 10 suspects had been remanded in custody for 14 days and brought to Colombo for questioning. He said three were from Kandy and the other seven from outside the district.

In the 24 hours to 6 a.m. (0030 GMT) on Friday, six properties were reported to have been damaged while 65 people were arrested across Kandy, Gunasekara said.

A Reuters reporter saw a house in a suburb of the town of Kandy that had been gutted by fire after the owner and his family left in fear of an attack.

Cabinet spokesman Dayasiri Jayasekara said police in some places had failed to carry out orders to curb the violence.

Sri Lanka’s Muslims make up about 9 percent of its 21 million people and mostly live in the east and centre of the island. Buddhist Sinhalese account for about 70 percent and ethnic Tamils, most of whom are Hindus, about 13 percent.

Some Buddhist nationalists have protested against the presence in Sri Lanka of Muslim Rohingya asylum-seekers from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has also been on the rise.

However, in some areas, Sinhalese have helped Muslims to protect mosques, Muslim community leaders told Reuters.

Hundreds of Sinhalese including monks held a rally against the violence in Colombo on Friday, while many Muslim shopkeepers closed their doors in protest at the attacks.

Police reimposed a curfew in Kandy from 8 p.m. on Friday until 5 a.m. on Saturday.

However, foreign visitors to the town, a prime tourist destination, were to be allowed out in the curfew if they had their passports with them.

Sri Lanka was for decades plagued by war between government forces and Tamil separatists. The government defeated the rebels in 2009.

(Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Kevin Liffey)


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