At least 3 were killed and over 78 injured as clashes broke out between Muslims and Sinhala Buddhists in Aluthgama, Sri Lanka. The clashes followed a rally by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) Buddhist brigade, leading the Sri Lankan government to impose a curfew as angry mobs marched into Muslim areas, chanting slogans, burning houses, and stoning mosques.
The Citizen The most senior Muslim member of Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s government, justice minister Rauf Hakeem, threatened to resign over the government’s decision to allow BBS to hold the rally in Aluthgama. “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,” Hakeem was quoted as saying. “The government allowed the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to hold their gathering and therefore they must take responsibility for what has happened.”
The BBS were allowed to hold a rally to protest over a recent road rage incident in the area, with the protest rapidly turning violent. Local witnesses allege that authorities offered little protection as the mob went on a rampage in the mainly Muslim areas of the town.
Rajapaksa announced an investigation as authorities scrambled to bring the situation under control, extending the curfew. “The government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. I urge all parties concerned to act in restraint,” the Sri Lankan President tweeted.
As accounts of ethnic violence in Sri Lanka has focused on the Sinhalese Buddhists and Sri Lankan Tamils, Muslims in the country, who comprise eight to ten percent of the population, have been largely ignored. The Sri Lankan civil war took its toll on Muslims in the country, especially in the country’s North where Muslims faced particular hardship at the hand of the LTTE.
In October 1990, the entire Muslim population of Jaffna, Vavumiya, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Kilinochchi districts in the northern region were evicted from their homes at gun point and turned into Internally Displaced Persons overnight by the Tamil Tigers.
With the civil war over and the LTTE being comprehensively defeated, tensions have sparked between Sinhalese Buddhists and Muslims, with the former accusing the government of minority appeasement, staging demonstrations heavy with anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Ethnic violence between the majority Sinhalese Buddhists and the minority Muslims is not new, with prolonged riots being traced back to 1915 in the hill station of Kandi. Sri Lanka has not witnessed any armed movement spearheaded by Muslims, with minority frustration being channeled through political processes and negotiation. However, a failure by the Sri Lankan government to ensure the security of Muslims and their political involvement, may beget deeper repercussions.