By the “Daily FT” Special Correspondent in Kandy
A fresh wave of violence erupted in different parts of the Kandy District yesterday, a full 24 hours after the Government declared a state of emergency to control escalating ethnic tensions and attacks on homes and businesses targeting the Muslim community in Digana and surrounding villages.
Fires raged in Akurana, Katugastota last afternoon, setting a large row of shops alight as Muslim leaders used loudspeakers to repeatedly call for calm. At 2:30 p.m., around the 8th mile post in Akurana, in an area known as Ettankattai, a row of 25 Muslim-owned shops went up in flames, spewing ash and sending up clouds of black smoke visible from miles away. A fire brigade unit attempted to put out the rapidly spreading fire as dozens of army personnel wielding large poles attempted to control the crowd.
Muslim leaders made announcements on loudspeakers, urging people to remain calm “for the sake of Allah” even as crowds of people gathered around the Akurana mosque. As shops and buildings collapsedfrom the raging fires and tension reigned, the military pushed residents and media personnel back from the centre of the violence.
Residents in Akurana and Uguressapitiya repeatedly complained about law enforcement inaction in the face of the violence.
M. Jaffer, an Ettankattai resident was despairing. “The main junction is going up in flames. At the same time, the authorities are folding their arms and watching,” he complained.
Jaffer says that about 20 minutes after the shops were set ablaze, a few Muslim boys from the area had flung stones at the attackers in retaliation. “At that time we heard the Army personnel telling their colleagues,‘they are beating our people; bring your weapons and come here,’” the Ettankattai resident related.
“Until then they just watched and waited. Is this our Government? Is this our justice system?” “You know what happened to the Tamils in 1983? That is what is happening to us today,” another frustrated resident of Ettankattai told reporters just yards away from where the fire was raging.
Most main roads in the Kandy District remained calm and empty, as Police imposed a district-wide curfew in Kandy, but unruly mobs moved through small towns, setting a shop or two on fire and attacking mosques before moving on. The pockets of Ambatenna, Uguressapitiya, Menikhinna and Pologolla in the Kandy District were affected by yesterday’s continuing violence.
Army, Navy and Police personnel patrolled the streets, but the security appeared to be grossly inadequate, with the violence creeping slowly from town to town.
Army Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Attanayake said 487 Army personnel and 128 Navy personnel had been deployed in affected parts of the Kandy District. Another 450 troops were on standby and confined to barracks, Brigadier Attanayake said. IGP Pujith Jayasundera declared a 24-hour curfew under emergency regulations across the Kandy Administrative District, in a bid to contain the violence and burning. The IGP also dispatched three special Police teams to Kandy, each comprising three DIGs and three Superintendents of Police to control the situation. Leave for all Policemen serving islandwide was also cancelled with immediate effect by the IGP.
The Education Ministry also announced that all schools in the Kandy District would remain closed until further notice. Despite prevailing Police curfew overnight in Kandy on Tuesday, there were multiple reports of tension and unrest in the areas of Menikhinna, Aluthwatte, Ambatenna and Wattegama areas. Police announced that seven persons were arrested for unruly conduct while at least three Police personnel were injured in the overnight violence.
At least 10 people had been injured and admitted to the Kandy General Hospital for treatment, correspondents in the area said, quoting hospital sources.
In Digana, as curfew was lifted, residents came out to survey the damage to their businesses and neighbouring houses. Several homes and shops had been severely burned or attacked. Some Muslim residents had been given shelter in the homes of Sinhalese neighbours.
“Our tenants who are Sinhalese stood in front of our bus and protected it from the mob by saying it was ours,” said Digana resident Padmini Yapa, who is married to a Muslim man. There had been many such cases around the town, she said, adding that a few bad eggs in the local area were behind the violence.