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Curfew imposed in Sri Lanka hill capital after Sinhala - Muslim clashes flare

From the Colombo Page Reuters via the Japan Times and the Tamil Guardian

Mar 05, Colombo: Sri Lanka imposed a curfew on Monday in the central hill town of Digana in Kandy after communal clashes between the Sinhalese and Muslims flared.

Department of Government Information in notice issued said a police curfew was imposed in the Kandy District until Tuesday 6th March morning.  "The Police put on alert to ensure that the enforcement of the law proceeds without hindrance and the situation does not spiral into an inter-communal conflagration," the government statement said. The Government appealed to all parties and especially the general public to act with responsibility and remain calm.

The Minister of Education meanwhile has instructed the authorities to close all schools in the Administrative district of Kandy tomorrow (06).

Police Special Task Force (STF) has been deployed to curb the riot situation, the Police Media Spokesman stated.

The violence flared up after a 41-year-old Sinhala man, a resident of Ambala in Medamahanuwara was allegedly attacked by a group of Muslims in Teldeniya Town on February 22. The victim died on Sunday from the injuries received in the attack.

Renewed tension has been growing between the two communities since last year, with some hard line Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalizing Buddhist archaeological sites.

Muslims in the area, speaking to Reuters by phone, said some attacks on Muslim-owned properties had taken place after the start of the curfew, which took effect at about 3 p.m. local time (09.30 GMT). Sinhala mobs, including Buddhist monks, set fire to two mosques as well as Muslim businesses and homes in the areas.

Police and some residents said Sinhalese owned properties were also attacked.

Muslims in the area, speaking to Reuters by phone, said some attacks on Muslim-owned properties had taken place after the start of the curfew, which took effect at about 3 p.m. local time (09.30 GMT). Police and some residents said Sinhalese owned properties were also attacked. 

Rauff Hakeem, a senior Muslim minister in President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration, said the attacks bore the hallmark of good coordination and only targeted Muslim-owned properties. Hakeem told Reuters via phone from Teldeniya that a number of shops and two mosques had been gutted. “The failure of the law and order machinery has resulted in this,” he said. “The damage is unimaginable. This is clearly hate crime.”

Before the attacks, police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse people including Buddhist monks who had gathered near a local police station. Police have already arrested four Muslim men over an alleged attack on the deceased Sinhalese youth.

Sri Lanka’s Department of Government Information released a special statement condemning the violence, and ministers including Mangala Samaraweera and Harsha de Silva took to Twitter to denounce the violence. However the government’s response has been criticised by human rights activists and local commentators for failing to address the root causes of racially-motivated violence on the island.

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