Colombo (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A road accident in Gintota, Galle district, on the southwestern coast of Sri Lanka, has re-ignited ethnic tensions between Buddhists and Muslims.
Last Friday, a woman and her son, both Muslims, were hit by a motorbike driven by a Buddhist man. This sparked a brawl that aroused latent anti-Muslim intolerance.
Members of the two communities clashed, resulting in widespread damages to property, mostly at the expense of Muslims.
In all, some 66 homes, 26 shops, two mosques and 16 vehicles (including four motorcycles) were damaged or torched. At least five people were hospitalised, but no death has been reported.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited the scene of the incident and ordered an official investigation by the Inspector General of Police, who was asked to ascertain who was responsible as quickly as possible.
Police media spokesperson SP Ruwan Gunasekara slammed "the attempt by some extremist groups to cause ethnic strife over a trivial matter."
Meanwhile, the authorities imposed a curfew from 4 pm to 9 am in Gintota, Kurunduwatte, Maha-Hapugala, Welipitimodara, Ukwatte and Piyaddigama.
The investigation has led to the arrest of 24 people in connection with the violence.
Some analysts now fear that the unrest may lead to more clashes between members of the two religions.
In June 2014, Buddhist radicals of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) attacked, pillaged and destroyed Muslim properties in Dharga Nagar, Beruwela and Aluthgama, three predominantly Muslim towns.
About 10,000 people were forced to flee their homes, 8,000 Muslims and 2,000 Sinhalese. Muslims suffered the most with four dead, 80 wounded, 90 homes, shops, mosques, and other building destroyed for millions of Sri Lankan rupees in damages.
Sri Lanka is a predominantly Buddhist country: 70 per cent of the total population of 21 million inhabitants. Muslims represent 10 per cent and are the largest group after the Tamil.
“It is shocking to note that a small accident in Gintota which was not even fatal [. . .] led to communal unrest,” wrote the Ceylon Today in an editorial today. “[T]his incident shows how far ultra nationalist elements are vigilant over picking up even the slightest problem to 'stir the hornet's nest'.”
Other experts note that ethnic violence has not yet been curbed in the island eight years after the end of the country’s 30-year civil war, only a few days after Sri Lankan authorities accepted a list of recommendations from the UN Human Rights Council.
“[T]hese attacks carried out against Muslims at a time when the UNHRC's Periodic Review Working Group session was in progress a few days ago, makes the international community understand that the minorities are still in peril in the Island,” the editorial also said.