ALUTHGAMA: Police called off a rally by a hardline Buddhist organization on Tuesday to stop the sectarian clashes between Buddhists and Muslims from spreading, official said.
The clashes have killed three and wounded 80 in southern Sri Lanka since Sunday. The hurriedly organized rally by hardline group Bodu Bala Sena ( BBS) or Buddhist Task Force was to have been held in Mawanella, a town near Aluthgama and Beruwala that have been under a police curfew since Sunday evening. “Mawanella Police has obtained a Court order against a proposed rally by BBS,” Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Piyalal Disanayake told reporters.
However, there were reports that BBS supporters had distributed leaflets to residents in the Mawanella town, urging them to meet near the town clock tower and participate in the rally, which would contravene the Court order. Residents noted a heighted police and army presence in the area to disperse any crowds gathering for a meeting that could lead to more violence. In Beruwala and Aluthgama where the clashes were at their worst, the army with assistance from police special forces combed the area, gathering makeshift weapons including two swords, over 15 petrol bombs, about 50 wooden clubs and iron rods. The crude weapons were later taken into police custody.
Subsequently, the army and police together with Buddhist priests ventured into the villages, holding small meetings to foster awareness and impose calm on the still tense situation. “We are trying to make the people on both sides understand the futility of what they are doing. Rumors are running amok and further incensing the people so we are trying to make them act with restraint. The situation is now much calmer,” Army General U. Madiwela told Xinhua. Sporadic unrest erupted in the southern Sri Lankan towns on Tuesday that have been under police curfew since communal clashes erupted between Muslims and Buddhists resulting in three deaths and 80 injuries when a Buddhist shop was set on fire.
On Tuesday morning police curfew that had been imposed on the towns of Aluthgama and Beruwala on Sunday evening were lifted for four hours to allow residents to stock up on essential supplies including food. People were moving freely around town despite a heavy army and police presence in the area. “About an hour before the curfew was due to be re-imposed a mob suddenly materialized out of nowhere and torched a Buddhist owned shop in Dharga town,” eyewitnesses told Xinhua. Police Special Forces mobilized quickly to disperse the mob, they said, adding that the town itself remains under heavy lockdown by police and army with media being cautioned from entering the area.
Over 20 shops and over a dozen houses belonging to Muslims are reported to have been torched since Sunday. Mobs from both religions are still reported to be roaming the area despite the curfew. Dharga is the Muslim town where the riots on Sunday started. Situated in the outskirts of Aluthgama town, the Muslim village has been at the center of the controversy that sparked communal clashes. Hardline Buddhist organization BBS is accused of provoking the riots after holding a rally in Aluthgama on Sunday and making racially inflammatory speeches.
Meanwhile, the Australian government in its latest travel advisory issued on Tuesday advised its citizen travelling to Sri Lanka to exercise a high degree of caution in the country at this time “because of the unrest situation in some parts of the country.” U.S. and Canadian governments on Monday condemned the outbreak of communal violence and called on the Sri Lankan authorities to act quickly to ensure the safety of all communities. “Canada condemns the outbreak of communal violence against Muslims, which resulted in the loss of lives and extensive damage to property in the south of Sri Lanka. We urge the Sri Lankan authorities to act quickly to ensure the safety of all communities. These attacks are completely unacceptable and a clear violation of the right to religious freedom,” the Canadian embassy said in a statement. Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is currently attending the G77 summit in Bolivia, tweeted on Monday, calling for restraint and promising an investigation into the incident.
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