COLOMBO — Anti-Muslim violence has hit a new dangerous level in Sri Lanka after extreme Buddhist monks led hundreds in an assault on a Muslim-owned clothing warehouse, injuring hundreds in the capital.
“It has created a fear psychosis among the Muslims,” N.M. Ameen, president of the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organization of Muslim groups, told Agence France Presse (AFP).
“We know a majority of the (Buddhist) people do not support this type of activity.”
Ameen was commenting on an attack on a Muslim store in Pepiliyana on Thursday night.
The attack was carried out by hundreds of Sinhalese led by Buddhist monks who stormed the Fashion Bug store and set fire to merchandise before escaping.
Eyewitnesses said the police stood and watched although after the trouble spread they brought it under control.
Several Muslims were wounded in the unjustified attack. However, no arrests were made, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.
"We have deployed extra units of STF (Special Task Force commandos) and police to guard the area," Siriwardena told AFP.
"The situation was brought under control within a few hours."
The authorities have not declared a motive for the attack, but official sources said it appeared to be part of the ongoing targeting of minority Muslim businesses by a group of Sinhala-Buddhist hardliners.
Two weeks ago, a hardline Buddhist group known as "Bodu Bala Sena", or Buddhist Force, called for the demolition of a 10th century mosque in Kuragala.
The call for destroying the ancient mosque comes shortly after the group campaigned against halal food in Sri Lanka, forcing Muslims to abandon halal logo to help ease tension with the Buddhist majority.
The Muslim appeal to the president for protection is not the first.
Over the past months, the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka has called on the President to consider their requests to stem the rising tide of anti-Muslim extremism in the country.
Muslims have urged the president to publicly condemn the hate campaign of the Buddhist extremists.
They have also called for defending equal rights for all citizens in the country as well as instructing the police to take necessary action to stop incidents of harassment against minorities and their businesses.
Muslims in Sri Lanka have been living in fear over the past couple of months from the rising hate campaigns led by Buddhist extremist groups.
“The top monks can’t tolerate this. What is the government doing? Things have gone out of control,” Muslim politician Azath Salley told Xinhua
“The Bodu Bala Sena should be brought under control,” he said.
Salley warned that things have gone out of control and the government is silent over the issue.
Sri Lankan Muslims, known as “Moors”, are the third largest ethnic group in the country after the Sinhalese, who make up 70 percent of the populace, and Tamils, who account for 12.5 percent.
Analysts say successive governments have been under pressure to give in to the Buddhist majority whenever there is an ethnic clash.
Sri Lanka has been thrown into tension following a string of serious incidents involving extremist Buddhist provocations against Muslims.
In June, some 200 demonstrators led by several dozen Buddhist monks converged on a small Islamic center in Colombo’s suburb of Dehiwala.
Throwing stones and rotten meat over the mosque gate, protestors shouted slogans demanding the closure of the Muslim worship place.
Last April, a number of Buddhist monks disrupted Muslim prayer services in the village of Dambulla. The attackers claimed that the mosque, built in 1962, was illegal.
Weeks later, monks drafted a threatening letter aimed at Muslims in the nearby town of Kurunegala, demanding Islamic prayer services there be halted.
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