Deadly riots flare in Sri Lanka resort region for 2nd night running

ALUTGAMA, Sri Lanka (AFP) - More deadly violence flared in a Sri Lankan resort region where Buddhist hardliners set shops and homes alight for a second night running in defiance of a curfew, the police and residents said on Tuesday.

Amid mounting international concern at the unrest, residents of a town that has borne the brunt said an unarmed security guard was killed in an attack outside a Muslim-owned farm, raising the overall death toll to four.

"More than a dozen houses and shops have been burnt overnight," a police source told AFP from the mainly Muslim town of Alutgama, after another night of mob violence by followers of the extremist Buddhist Force.

Soldiers, armed with assault rifles and cricket stumps as batons, were seen patrolling the deserted streets of the southwestern beach resort on Tuesday.

"What is the point in all this heavy (military) presence when everything here is destroyed?" asked Muslim businessman Mohamed Rishan, 33, who lost three shops in the rioting. "They should have been here yesterday."

Western embassies in Colombo advised their nationals holidaying in the area to stay indoors, while other foreigners were urged to avoid crowded areas and respect the curfew.

The attacks are the latest in a series of religious clashes to hit the island following unrest in January and last year, when Buddhist mobs attacked a mosque in the capital Colombo.

Muslims make up about 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population, but are accused by nationalists of having undue influence in the Buddhist-majority country.

In Welipanna, a suburb of Alutgama, residents said nine houses and 26 shops were destroyed overnight by a mob of 50 to 60 men armed with guns, petrol bombs and knives.

Local school principal A. R. M. Nahuman said residents had pleaded with the authorities to provide more police protection, but to little avail.

"There were only three constables and they were quite helpless in the face of the big mob," Mr Nahuman told AFP, as he walked down a row of burnt-out shops.

Service station owner Abdul Kafar, 60, said the attackers fire-bombed his business as well as his home.

"We have lost everything. We lived here for 25 years, but never experienced anything like this before," said Mr Kahar as he stood among the charred remains of his home.

Chicken farm owner Hijasin Mustapha, 31, said attackers set fire to his warehouse after knifing an elderly unarmed security guard.

"They first stabbed our watcher and another worker and then set fire to the stores," Mr Mustapha said.

Although the unrest on Monday was not as widespread as the previous night, it came despite the announcement of a curfew.

Residents said several vehicles had also been set alight in Alutgama.

A curfew which was lifted for four hours to allow residents to stock up on supplies was reimposed at noon and would continue indefinitely, the police said.

The authorities say nearly 80 people have so far been seriously injured in clashes while many more have suffered minor injuries. Dozens of homes, shops and mosques have been partially or completely destroyed.

The most senior Muslim member of President Mahinda Rajapakse's government threatened on Monday to resign in protest at a decision to allow militant Buddhists to rally in the flashpoint region on Sunday.

Sunday's fighting erupted after a prominent Buddhist monk threatened to obliterate Muslim-majority towns.

The police blocked another rally planned for Tuesday by the Buddhist Force in the central town of Mawanella, some 160km away from the latest violence, fearing it would trigger more violence.

United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay expressed concern the riots could spread to other areas, and demanded the perpetrators be brought to justice.

The United States, which has led international condemnation of Sri Lanka's human rights record, has also urged Colombo to end the violence.

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