World News

Sri Lanka Declares Emergency After Mob Attacks on Muslims

Posted March 6, 2018 12:53 p.m. EST

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government imposed a nationwide state of emergency Tuesday after mob attacks against the minority Muslim population in a central district, violence that has highlighted the country’s fragility as it tries to recover from decades of civil war.

The unrest in the district of Kandy began Sunday, as angry mobs made up of the majority Sinhalese ethnic group attacked dozens of Muslim businesses and houses, and at least one mosque. At least one person was killed. Hundreds of security personnel, including special forces, were deployed to Kandy on Monday and a curfew was declared there.

Officials feared that the killing — of a man in his 20s, whose body was found in a burned house — could provoke violent reactions across the country.

“The government has decided to declare a state of emergency for a 10-day period starting at midnight to maintain law and order” after the violence in the Digana area of Kandy, S.B. Dissanayake, a Cabinet minister, said Tuesday.

“There are doubts being expressed about whether the police acted swiftly enough to curb the violence,” he said. “So a decision was made to declare a state of emergency at the Cabinet today.”

The latest tensions, coming a week after similar mob attacks against Muslims in an eastern region, erupted after a Sinhalese truck driver was injured by a group of Muslim men in what has been described as a road rage incident. The man died from his injuries Saturday.

After his death, officials and Kandy residents said, extremist Buddhist monks who have incited communal violence in the past descended on the area, apparently to pay their condolences. But many believed that their presence, amid the tensions, fueled the violent backlash against the Muslims.

“Two controversial Buddhist monks who have been at the center of similar anti-minority clashes before had been in the area on Sunday night,” said Rishad Bathiudeen, Sri Lanka’s minister of industry and commerce, who was in Kandy to survey the damage. “We demand their arrest for inciting communal violence.”

Bathiudeen said that after the truck driver died, the police in Kandy were warned about the rising tensions and urged to send reinforcements.

“The deputy inspector general told us to tell the Muslims to stay at home and close up their shops in the Digana town,” Bathiudeen said. “The Muslims stayed at home and the mobs came and burned the deserted shops.”

“How are minority communities supposed to feel when the police stand by and watch while their houses and their businesses are destroyed by violent mobs?” said Bathiudeen, who is Muslim. “We are urging our people to remain calm, but when their houses and livelihoods go up in flames, how long will they bear it?”

Anti-Muslim violence has been on the rise in Sri Lanka in recent years, as the country’s leaders have struggled to rein in the nationalist fervor of the majority Sinhalese Buddhists. President Maithripala Sirisena’s fragile coalition government has been accused of emboldening extremists by failing to hold groups that incite hatred to account.