Buddhists and Muslims Clash in Eastern Sri Lanka
A recent clash between majority Sinhalese Buddhists and minority Muslims in eastern Sri Lanka points to dangerous signs of growing religious conflict in the region. At least 5 people were wounded in the attack.
The conflict began in Ampara when a Sinhalese mob attacked a mosque, four shops, and several vehicles on Monday night, according to a police media spokesman, Ruwan Gunasekara. The attack was allegedly spurred by a rumor that a local restaurant owned by a Muslim had inserted “sterilization pills” in its food.
Due to accusations pushed by hardline Buddhist groups against Muslims in the area, tensions between the two communities have worsened. Certain Buddhist groups claim that Muslims have forced people to convert to Islam and have destroyed ancient Buddhist sites.
Though Gunasekara confirmed that no arrests have been made, politicians, security forces, and religious leaders held a discussion today at the District Office in which they agreed to strictly enforce the law against the attackers.
This kind of religion-based conflict is not new to Sri Lanka, a nation marred by the remnants of religious intolerance from its 26-year civil war. The war ended in 2009 with the defeat of the Hindu Tamil Tiger rebels, after numerous allegations were made about atrocities committed on both sides of the conflict.
In November of 2017, 19 people were arrested in the Sri Lankan province of Galle in a Buddhist-Muslim street clash after a traffic incident. Member of Parliament Manusha Nanayakkara told BBC that 62 homes and businesses, owned primarily by Muslims, had been attacked in the conflict.
Three years before this attack, a series of violent threats had forced thousands of Muslims to flee from their homes in an area close to Galle.
An umbrella-organization that includes many of Sri Lanka’s Muslim associations, known as the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka (MCSL), condemned Monday night’s attack, calling for governmental action against the attackers.
Claiming that the government, “has the sole responsibility to ensure the safety and security of all its citizens irrespective of religious belief, caste or ethnicity,” the Council’s statement delivered a clear stance on the kind of governmental intervention it desires.
Though President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have promised to pursue measures to curb the anti-Muslim violence, the tension between religious communities in Sri Lanka has no clear end in sight.