- Widespread condemnation as religious tensions kill three; injure over 70
- Police curfew in force since Sunday; uneasy calm in Aluthgama and Berwela
- Houses, shops and mosques attacked in riots
- Police forensic teams deployed amidst tight security in the area
By Dharisha Bastians
Police curfew remains in force in Aluthgama and Beruwala as sporadic incidents continued in the area throughout Monday and Police and religious leaders appealed for restraint from all sides.
Police fired tear gas to disperse crowds about 300 strong in Welipanna late last night, reports from the area said. Religious clashes in Aluthgama on Sunday night claimed three lives and injured more than 70 people, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem and residents confirmed yesterday.
However, Police Spokesman Ajith Rohana maintained that only two persons had been killed in the violence and 30 injured. However, residents in Welipitiya maintained that three people from the village had succumbed to injuries received in the worst of Sunday’s sectarian violence. “We heard firing and then the power went out. We couldn’t see who was in the crowd,” said Welipitiya resident M. Hussein, who was involved in the fighting on Sunday night.
Police forensic teams arrived last afternoon to study the evidence in the cordoned-off area, which included fresh bloodstains, debris and remnants of petrol bombs.
Minister Hakeem, who arrived in Aluthgama last morning, said he was outraged by the unchecked rioting on Sunday night. The Police Spokesman admitted there was some unrest in the area, but insisted the Police and Army were working to ‘normalise’ the situation. SSP Rohana told the Daily FT no arrests had been made so far in connection to Sunday’s riots. “I will have to seriously reconsider my position in the Government,” the Minister told reporters at the Welipitiya mosque.
With fresh clashes imminent on Monday evening, the Government deployed the military in the Aluthgama area. Residents said the Army had used tear gas to disperse a group mobilising in Pinhena in Aluthgama last night. Several groups blocked entry into the town last afternoon, preventing at least two teams of media personnel from entering Dharga Town, where the worst of the damage from Sunday’s rioting was visible.
Several top moderate Buddhist monks and civil society leaders joined in a call for peace between the Sinhalese and Muslim communities in Colombo yesterday, one day after the clashes.
Ven. Professor Kamburugamuwa Vajira Thero, speaking at a media briefing organised by the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka at the Galadari Hotel in Colombo, expressed regret over the loss of life and property suffered by Muslims as a result of the violence. Ravaya Editor Victor Ivan, artist and academic Dr. Chandraguptha Thenuwara and several other civil society activists spoke during the briefing, urging restraint and expressing regret about the situation unfolding in Aluthgama. The representatives in attendance at yesterday’s press briefing also released a joint statement, alleging that the Government had failed to take action against the Bodu Bala Sena.