Sri Lanka on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 10 days to rein in the spread of communal violence between majority Sinhala Buddhists and minority Muslims in the country’s scenic Kandy district that left two persons dead and damaged several mosques and homes.
Violence, triggered by the death of a Sinhalese man at the hands of a mob last week, erupted on Monday in the Theldeniya area of the central hill district popular with tourists.
The government sent troops and elite police commandoes to Kandy to restore order and enforce the curfew.
President Maithripala Sirisena and the Cabinet decided to declare a state of emergency for 10 days following the violence prevailed in some parts of the country, Minister of Social Empowerment S B Dissanayake told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
Muslims claimed that around 10 mosques, 75 shops and 32 houses belonging to the minority community were badly damaged in the attacks by the Sinhalese Buddhists, forcing police to fire tear gas shells and impose an overnight curfew to prevent clashes between the two communities.
The situation, however, remained tense in part of Kandy, home to famous tea plantations and Buddhist relics, after charred remains of a Muslim man was recovered on Tuesday from a burnt building.
Fresh curfew was imposed today and heavily-armed police commandos of special task force were deployed in Theldeniya and Pallekele areas of Kandy after rioters disobeyed an overnight curfew and went on a rampage.
This will be the first time since August 2011 that a state of emergency will be in force in the Indian Ocean's island nation.
The state of emergency allows the deployment troops on the street, search and arrest people without a warrant.
President Sirisena said stern action would be taken against anyone who spreads violence in the country.
Making a special statement over the inter-communal clashes, he assured action against the elements which spread violence at a time when the government was taking measures to establish political stability, peace among communities and reconciliation in the country.
He also said stern action would be taken against those who breach peace and provoke citizens by spreading rumours and false news by various means, including social media platforms.
He said necessary action has been taken after convening the National Security Council to discuss the prevailing situation.
The violence in Kandy was unleashed by a group people who had come from outside and not by the people in the area, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe told Parliament on Tuesday.
Sri Lanka has a long history of state of emergency during the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam rebellion both in the south and the Tamil minority dominated north and east of the island.
“We decided to take strong action to control the situation and to deal strongly with all wrong doers,” senior minister Rauff Hakeem, who is also the leader of the main Muslim party Sri Lanka Muslim Congress, told reporters.
The violence was sparked off by the death of a Sinhalese man who was assaulted by the three Muslims over a private dispute.
According to police, on February 22, the man was admitted to a hospital following an attack, where he succumbed to his injuries on March 3, after which the attackers arrested and were remanded to police custody till Wednesday.
Tension has been on the rise in Sri Lanka since 2012, said to have been fuelled by hardline Buddhists.
In November last, 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.
The violence was instigated by a Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are on trial accused of instigating religious conflict.
The Sinhalese are a mainly Buddhist ethnic group making up nearly three-quarters of Sri Lanka's 21 million people, while Muslims are just 10 per cent of the country's population.
Meanwhile, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said that the Tri-nation T20 series in Sri Lanka, also involving the Indian cricket team, will continue despite the government imposing a state of emergency following communal violence.
Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters