Fresh anti-Muslim riots erupt in Sri Lanka

Updated 16 June 2014

Fresh anti-Muslim riots erupt in Sri Lanka

COLOMBO: Sri Lankan police clamped a curfew on a coastal resort Sunday after Buddhists attacked Muslims and mosques in the area, leaving several wounded and raising tensions. Muslims have expressed their deep concern over the situation and urged the government to intervene to end the violence.
Police have poured hundreds of reinforcements into Alutgama, 60 km south of the capital Colombo, after the two groups attacked each other with stones -- the latest in a series of religious clashes.
A police spokesman said trouble began when a group led by Buddhist monks tried to march in an area where there is a concentration of Muslims.
"The curfew was declared to bring the situation under control," a police officer in the area told reporters. There were no immediate reports of arrests.
Many activists from both sides as well as bystanders were injured during the evening clashes, according to witnesses who also reported seeing several vehicles smashed.
The latest unrest came weeks after Muslim legislators asked President Mahinda Rajapakse to protect their minority community from "Buddhist extremist elements" blamed for a recent spate of attacks.
Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population. Nationalist Buddhist groups have in turn accused minorities of wielding undue political and economic influence.
Senior Buddhist monks have been caught on video threatening violence against their moderate colleagues who advocate tolerance.
Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, warned monks in January last year not to incite religious violence.

During Sunday’s violence several people are reported to have been injured and shops and mosques burned. Eyewitness accounts tell of Muslims being pulled off local buses and beaten. There are also reports of looting.
The clashes are said to have begun after the rally held by the BBS, the Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Brigade. The gathering came three days after a smaller clash between Muslim youths and a Buddhist monk's driver.
After its rally, the BBS marched into Muslim areas chanting anti-Muslim slogans, reports say, and the police used tear gas to quell the violence. Unconfirmed reports say security forces also used gunfire.
The situation is confusing and there is an air of danger as violence has spread to several areas, a BBC reporter in Aluthgama said.
Sri Lankan media appear to have decided not to report the violence, with sources saying outlets have received "orders from above".
The president has called for an investigation. "The government will not allow anyone to take the law into their own hands. I urge all parties concerned to act in restraint," Rajapakse tweeted.


UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

Updated 36 min 31 sec ago

UN rights chief ‘troubled’ by new Sri Lanka army chief

  • Shavendra Silva, 55, was promoted by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army
  • A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.

GENEVA: UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Monday she is “deeply troubled” by Sri Lanka’s appointment of an accused war criminal as army chief, as global concern mounts over the nomination.
Major General Shavendra Silva, 55, was elevated to the army’s second-highest position of chief of staff in January before his latest promotion by President Maithripala Sirisena to commander of the Sri Lankan army.
“The promotion of Lt. General General Silva severely compromises Sri Lanka’s commitment to promote justice and accountability,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Silva, who commanded an army division in the long-running civil war with Tamil separatists, has been accused by the United Nations of war crimes during the conflict’s final stages.
“I am deeply troubled by the appointment ... despite the serious allegations of gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law against him and his troops during the war,” Bachelet said.
The US embassy in Colombo, along with civil society groups, have also criticized the appointment as a move likely to undermine reconciliation efforts.
Sri Lanka’s armed forces crushed the separatist rebels in 2009 in a no-holds barred offensive that ended a 37-year war which killed 100,000 people.
There were mass atrocities against civilians in Sri Lanka’s predominantly Tamil north toward the end of the conflict, with rights groups saying some 40,000 ethnic Tamils were killed by government forces.
A UN report said Silva played a major role in orchestrating war crimes.