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AP Photo/Pradeep Pathiran
World News

Christians call for end to anti-Muslim violent attacks

by Tola Mbakwe

Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) said it has extreme concerns after anti-Muslim rioting flared again in the hills of central Sri Lanka on Wednesday despite a state of emergency.

The government has ordered popular social media networks to be blocked to stop the violence from spreading. The police also ordered a curfew across much of the region for the third straight day, trying to calm the situation.

In the small town of Katugastota, Ikram Mohamed, a Muslim said Sinhalese Buddhist mobs burned down the textile shop he worked in. He and the owner had closed the shop on Wednesday morning when police announced the curfew. They returned to find it destroyed, and clothing and dressmaker dummies smoking in the ruins.

"There are many good Sinhalese people," he said. "This is being done by a few jealous people."

Muslims own many of the small businesses in Sri Lanka, a fact that many believe has helped make them targets as Buddhist-Muslim relations have worsened in recent years amid the rise of hard-line Buddhist groups, which accuse Muslims of forcing people to convert and destroying sacred Buddhist sites.

Area residents said mobs swept through at least two towns in the central hills, attacking two mosques and a string of Muslim-owned shops and buildings.

Sri Lanka has long been divided between the majority Sinhalese, who are overwhelmingly Buddhist, and minority Tamils who are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

AP Photo/Pradeep Pathiran
Sri Lanka's armed police personnel stand near a vandalized building in Digana, a suburb of Kandy, Sri Lanka, March 6, 2018. Buddhist mobs swept through the town on Monday, burning at least 11 Muslim-owned shops and homes. Sri Lanka's president declared a state of emergency Tuesday amid fears that anti-Muslim attacks in the central hill town could spread

The country remains deeply scarred by its 1983-2009 civil war, when Tamil rebels fought to create an independent homeland.

Jehan Perera, executive director of CAFOD's partner, the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka said it seems like the country is being pushed into another war.

He said: "There is a deliberate and purposeful build-up of tension. This is being done for political reasons by those who do not have mass support.

"It is like we are back in the past, when there was fear in the air. We thought we had got out of this fear when the war ended."

Anti-Muslim riots began on Monday after a Buddhist Sinhalese man died after reportedly being attacked by a group of Muslim youths.

Mary Lucas, CAFOD's Country Representative for Sri Lanka, said the country faces a dangerous moment and has called the government to intervene.
 "The government of Sri Lanka must respond, and send a strong message that those who incite racial hatred will be found and punished," she said.

"The government must also unite and give strong leadership on peace and reconciliation to Sri Lanka as a whole."

While government officials have not directly accused Buddhist extremists of being behind the violence, many comments appeared aimed at them.

The government will "act sternly against groups that are inciting religious hatred", Cabinet minister Rauff Hakeem said after a meeting with the president.

CAFOD said it's supporting local civil society in Sri Lanka who are strengthening local communities' understanding of peace and reconciliation, "building their ability to resolve local conflicts peacefully, and resist falling prey to manipulation".

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