Sri Lanka declares state of emergency after Buddhist-Muslim clash

Sri Lanka's army soldiers stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Sri Lanka's central district of Kandy on March 6, 2018.
Sri Lanka's army soldiers stand guard near a burnt house after a clash between two communities in Sri Lanka's central district of Kandy on March 6, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

COLOMBO (REUTERS, AFP) - Sri Lanka has declared a state of emergency for 10 days to rein in the spread of communal violence, a government spokesman said on Tuesday (March 6), a day after Buddhists and Muslims clashed in the Indian Ocean island's central district of Kandy.

Tension has been growing between the two communities in Sri Lanka over the past year, with some hardline Buddhist groups accusing Muslims of forcing people to convert to Islam and vandalising Buddhist archaeological sites.

Some Buddhist nationalist have also protested against the presence in Sri Lanka of Muslim Rohingya asylum-seekers from mostly Buddhist Myanmar, where Buddhist nationalism has also been on the rise.

"At a special cabinet meeting, it was decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days to prevent the spread of communal riots to other parts of the country," the spokesman, Dayasiri Jayasekara, told Reuters.

"It was also decided to take stern action against people who are instigating violence through Facebook," he added, referring to postings on social media.

The government on Tuesday imposed fresh curfews and deployed heavily-armed police to Kandy, where riots have left two dead and Muslim homes and businesses in ruins.

Police extended a curfew in parts of Kandy, home to famous tea plantations and Buddhist relics, after the rioters disobeyed an overnight curfew and went on a rampage.

The body of a Muslim man was pulled from the ashes of a burnt building on Tuesday, police said, threatening to further fuel communal tensions that have flared up across the country in recent weeks.

A police spokesman said hundreds of commandos from the police Special Task Force had been deployed to the troubled district to restore order and enforce the curfew.

Muslim homes, business and mosques were badly damaged in riots Monday triggered by the death of a Sinhalese man at the hands of a mob last week.

The Sinhalese are a mainly Buddhist ethnic group making up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka's 21 million people. Muslims are just 10 per cent of its population.

More than two dozen arrests have been made and an inquiry opened into police conduct in Kandy, just the latest region to be plagued by religious and ethnic conflict.

Mobs set fire to Muslim-owned businesses and attacked a mosque in the east of the country last week after a Muslim chef was accused of adding contraceptives to food sold to Sinhalese.

The government dismissed the allegation as baseless and ordered the arrest of those fomenting unrest in the area.

Last November riots in the south of the island left one man dead and homes and vehicles damaged.

In June 2014 riots between Buddhists and Muslims left four dead and many injured. That violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial accused of spurring religious conflict.