Sri Lankan minister briefly trapped by ethnic clashes

COLOMBO Sun Jun 15, 2014 5:32pm EDT

Related Topics

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan government minister had to be rescued by police on Sunday after being trapped by ethnic violence between Buddhists and Muslims, officials and residents said.

At least 40 people were injured and mosques and shops were damaged in clashes that started at a protest march led by hardline Buddhist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), or the "Buddhist power force".

Junior Investment Promotion Minister Faiser Mustapha, a Muslim, was trapped when he visited a college in Beruwela, a tourist town 60 km (35 miles) from the capital Colombo, where hundreds of Muslims had taken refuge from the violence.

"There were groups of people who did not allow the minister to move out of Jamia Naleemia (college), where hundreds of Muslims have come for safety. However, with the police help he came out after an hour," a ministerial aide told Reuters.

"The special task force (elite police) has been deployed for the safety of Muslims in Jamia Naleemia."

Police in Beruwela and nearby Aluthgama where there was also fighting, imposed a curfew with immediate effect until further notice "due to the unrest between two groups".

There has been increasing violence against Muslims in Sri Lanka since 2012, mirroring events in Myanmar, which has seen a surge of attacks by members of the majority Buddhist community against Muslims.

Residents said the clashes started after the BBS group threw stones at a mosque and Muslims retaliated.

“Police and special forces just tried to disperse Muslims using teargas and they did nothing to control those Buddhist monks and their riot mobs,” a local Muslim told Reuters, on condition of anonymity.

At least nine other residents said hundreds of police on duty did not prevent the Buddhists from attacking mosques and houses.

The BBS said its members had been protesting peacefully, against an assault on a Buddhist monk by a Muslim youth three days ago, when they came under attack.

    "It was an unfortunate incident. It shouldn't have happened. There are damages and casualties to both the parties," said Dilantha Vithanage, a spokesman for the BBS.

Hospital sources said at least 40 injured people had been admitted.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa tweeted: “I urge all parties concerned to act with restraint. An investigation will be held for the law to take its course of action to bring to book those responsible ..."

Many independent analysts say well-coordinated violence against Muslims and Christians appears to have tacit state backing as those involved in previous attacks have yet to be punished. The government denies any collusion.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (1)
DPU wrote:
There is no denying that the tense situation that arose in Aluthgama and Beruwala was a very unfortunate incident and was primarily caused by growing fundamentalism fostered by Buddhist monks. It must be noted with equal emphasis that Muslims are by no means innocent and mosques do play a major role in fostering fundamentalism though behind closed door unlike the monks. I use” monks” because despite media speech, the Chief Incumbents have done nothing to prevent hate speech and campaigns shamelessly delivered and carried out in the public like in barbarian times and nor have they come forward with force to bring sense to the growing racism fuelled by their fellow monks.
However it must be noted including this report international media have taken a lot of effort to victimize Muslims without question and carnivorized Sinhalese Buddhists flat out.
Taking the riots out of context is will bring no peace. Truth is Muslim dominated areas have been under racial pressure. Being a resident from the area myself I know Dharaga Town and Beruwala have been like Muslims’ personal possession, everything should happen their way including road constructions, community services. There have been incidents where muslins spat at the sight of monks thus nonviolent retaliation has always been there, making the area susceptible to major clashes at the drop of a hat.
In this context, a monk gets allegedly attacked on the Poson Poya Day by Muslim youth which becomes the auspice for the BBS rally on last Sunday. There is no denying this was adding fuel to fire and the hate speech delivered by BBS leader monk out in the open without any repercussions (which has been the case for the past year or so where BBS’s vandalism and attacks went beyond legal framework) and no precautionary actions had been taken neither by the government or the Police given the already prevalent susceptibility to violence.
If you have seen the particular video, BBS supporters were seen marching the streets where Muslims were watching on the roadside with a few elderly Muslims begging those standing by not to act violently. However one of the Muslims throws a stone to which the supporters were immediately reacting by pelting stone back at them which they had been carrying all along. This is how the violence escalated and that was by no means one way racism.
Who had the most damage is not known yet but Muslims have become the only victims which is not the case. Violence escalated with equal participation by Muslim mobs which nobody talks about thus both parties are to blame and it’s up to them to put two and two together to return to normal life.

Jun 17, 2014 12:00am EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.