Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has declared a state of emergency for 10 days to help quell communal violence in this South Asian island nation’s central district of Kandy.
The emergency was declared on March 6 to prevent the spread of the sectarian violence, a day after majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority Muslims clashed. Buddhist mobs burnt at least 11 Muslim-owned shops and homes after a Buddhist man was reportedly killed by a group of Muslims.
Tension has been brewing between the two communities over the past year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcibly converting people to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.
The Sinhalese are a mainly Buddhist ethnic group, making up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people. Muslims are just 10 percent of its population.
The Prime Minister informed Parliament on March 5 that the Cabinet of Ministers had decided to declare a state of emergency in view of the ethnic violence in Teldeniya and adjacent areas.
Police slapped a curfew in Pallekele and Teldeniya police areas of Kandy until further notice after the body of a 24-year-old Muslim man was found inside a burning house.
The BBC reported that four mosques, 37 houses, 46 shops and 35 vehicles were damaged in Digana and Teldeniya areas due to the mob attack and that Muslims were living in fear.
Police spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekera told the Island newspaper that 24 persons arrested in connection with the unrest in Digana were produced in the Teldeniya magistrate’s court and remanded. Gunasekera said a contingent of 200 soldiers had been deployed in the area and additional security provided to mosques.
Lakshman Kiriella, a lawmaker from Kandy, said in Parliament that the attacks were “carried out by outsiders”.
“I am ashamed as a Buddhist and we must apologise to the Muslims,” Kiriella was quoted as saying in a report in the Hindustan Times.
Tension has been on the rise in Sri Lanka since 2012, said to have been fuelled by hardline Buddhists. Last November, riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged. Three years ago, riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured.
The emergency was imposed hours before India played their opening match against Sri Lanka in the Tri-Nation Nidahas Twenty20 Cup in this cricket-loving nation.