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Buddhist attack on Muslims leaves over 3,500 homeless in Sri Lanka
Wednesday June 18, 2014 10:48 AM, Agencies

More deadly violence flared in Alutgama, the vibrant tourist beach destination in Western Sri Lanka where Buddhist hardliners set shops and homes alight for a second night running in defiance of a curfew, police and residents said on Tuesday.

Anti Muslim riot Sri Lanka
[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. (AP Photo)]

Amid mounting international concern at the unrest, residents of a town which 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.

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

While the curfew that was imposed on Sunday and lifted for just four hours on Tuesday continues, around 3,500 men, women and children languish in mosques and makeshift camps made out of polythene, after their houses were burnt or attacked.

"They burnt our house, they destroyed everything we had and almost killed my baby," sobs 33-year-old Fathima Ilma, holding out a month-old baby whose head is wrapped in bandages.

The sobbing woman, who has two more children, eight and six year olds, are just three of the 1,500 people now taking refuge in the town's main mosque.

"It was around quarter past five and we were outside, watching what we were told was a peaceful Buddhist procession going our way when screaming men came and started torching our house. We crouched behind the parapet wall, but they threw broken bottles at us which landed on my baby's head, injuring her badly. She was bleeding so much, I didn't know what to do," says the mother.

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 percent of Sri Lanka´s 20 million population, but are accused by nationalists of having undue influence in the Buddhist-majority country.

Local school principal A. R. M. Nahuman said residents had pleaded with 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," Nahuman told AFP, as he walked down a row of burned-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 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," Mustapha said.

The stories in the four mosques in Alutgama — the Theru mosque, Dharul Huda, Adikari Road Mosque and Walpiti mosque — are all of attacks and looting; of homes, fortunes and businesses lost and a sense of desolation at the lack of government intervention that could have stopped the rioters before they killed and maimed.

Residents of Alutgama and Beruwela say that the riots were too synchronised, and too organised to have been a random one. The police and the army have been criticised for not containing the rioters, who continued to attack and burn long after the curfew was imposed.

"The men were thugs, and they were from out of town. They carried weapons and went on burning and looting our properties long after the curfew was imposed. If the military could eliminate the LTTE, they could have stopped this," says M. Fahmy voicing the thoughts of the residents of Dharga Town, the worst-affected area in Alutgama.

Meanwhile, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay Monday expressed concern that the religious riots could spread to other areas of Sri Lanka and demanded that Colombo immediately bring the perpetrators of attacks to justice.

"The government must urgently do everything it can to arrest this violence, curb the incitement and hate speech which is driving it, and protect all religious minorities," Pillay said in a statement issued in Geneva.


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