BERUWALA: The main Muslim party in Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition yesterday demanded a UN probe into one of the country’s worst-ever religious riots, as President Mahinda Rajapaksa toured the violence-hit resort region.
The Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) said it was also boycotting parliament as a protest against Colombo’s failure to rein in a hardline Buddhist group widely accused of sparking the clashes. Justice Minister and SLMC leader Rauf Hakeem told reporters Rajapaksa’s administration was at fault for letting the bloodshed escalate.
“We are convinced that the government did not do anything to prevent the violence against the Muslims,” said Hakeem, who is the most senior Muslim in Rajapaksa’s cabinet.
Rajapaksa, who was visiting Bolivia when the violence broke out, travelled to the resort region of Beruwala shortly after his return to the island and met local community leaders from both sides.
Hundreds of troops were deployed to help police after the extremist Buddhist Force, or BBS, marched in neighbouring Alutgama on Sunday, with clashes breaking out as it claimed its procession was stoned by Muslims.
At least four people were killed and nearly 80 seriously wounded, while dozens of homes, businesses and vehicles were torched, with violence spreading to Beruwala on Monday. “I will get the military to help you rebuild your homes and shops,” Rajapakse said, adding that he will hold an impartial inquiry.
Residents had complained that the authorities did little to stop the violence. The president made no reference to the SLMC demands to allow two UN experts — the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues — to visit the island.
“The government has for some time denied them visas to enter the country. But there is an opportunity now for the government to demonstrate its bona fides and allow the two UN experts to come here and start an investigation,” Hakeem said. The minister spoke with reporters as police announced they had arrested 49 people — both Buddhists and Muslims — overnight.
“We have already arrested 49 and remanded 25 of them and further arrests will take place today,” police spokesman Ajith Rohana said. The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Cooperation urged authorities to investigate and take action against those responsible.
OIC Secretary-General Iyad Madani said he hoped “every possible effort would be exerted by the Sri Lankan authorities to prevent a further escalation of violence”.