Although Prime Minister DM Jayaratne has informed Parliament that the situation in Aluthgama, Dharga Nagar, Beruwela and other areas have been normalised , the actual reality in the troubled region is different say informed sources who visited those places recently.
According to these sources armed gangs of thugs and hoodlums describing themselves as Sinhala Buddhist patriots are roaming about freely in the areas despite the heavy Police and Special Task Force (STF) presence and in spite of a curfew being in progress.
These gangs suspected of being linked to the Bodhu Bala Sena and Sihala Ravaya organizations are generally stationed near key junctions and intersections in the area. They seem to be positioning themselves in a manner that would enable them to block access to areas like Aluthgama and Dharganagar from certain directions.
The gangs are well armed with swords, poles and even fire arms. Though in civilian attire, many of them have the physique and body language of defence services personnel.It is suspected that they could be former members of the armed forces or Police.
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What is most troubling is that Police or STF personnel on duty seem to be acting in a deferential manner towards these gangs. They are either unwilling or unable to take action against the gangs and are adopting a “blind, deaf and dumb” approach towards these visibly armed violent elements.
These gangsters seem to be in an inebriated condition most of the time.
It is also suspected that some of these gangs are operating in the vicinity of Buddhist places of worship and receive support from fellow travellers there.
The gangs have virtually cut off access to the affected areas and kept them in a besieged state.
CLIMATE OF FEAR
The main objective of these racist elements seems to be that of perpetuating the climate of fear in the area, prevent normalcy and terrorising the Muslims from trying to return to their homes. They seem to be determined that no outside agency should provide succour or relief to the suffering Muslims displaced from their homes.
Several vehicles with food, provisions and medical items for the affected Aluthgama people have been prevented from proceeding further and sent back.Such is the venomus hatred displayed by these elements towards the Muslim victims of violence.
Persons proceeding to the troubled spots from outside are very often accosted by these elements and subjected to threats and intimidation.
A United National Party(UNP)fact finding delegation led by senior leader Karu Jayasuriya M.P. that went to Aluthgama had to cut short its itinerary and return to Colombo as the gangs blocked them at a certain point.They refused to let them proceed as there were Muslim MP’s and Provincial councillors in the delegation.
UNP Kalutara district MP Palitha Thevarapperuma’s vehicle was attacked when he tried to transport some injured Muslim civilians to the Hospital.
AL JAZEERAH TV
The vehicle in which a team of media personnel from “Al-Jazeerah”TV was travelling in was also attacked. No media person was harmed.
An attempt was also made to attack Former Kalmunai Mayor Dr. Shiraz Meerasahib when he was travelling to the affected area with provisions for the displaced.
If this is the prevailing state during daylight mthe situation takes a turn for the worse after nightfall.Large mobs numbering around 150 to 200 roam around freely. Some of these mobs engage in violence and looting
Attacks were launched in Welipenna and Henagama on Monday night. At least one person was killed. Over twenty houses and shops belonging to Muslims were attacked,looted and set on fire in Welipenna. A poultry and livestock farm owned by a Muslim in Henagama was attacked and the Tamil security guard killed.
While the violent elements who indulged in arson, robbery and other attacks on Muslims in Aluthgama are continuing to roam freely in a defiant manner without the Police doing anything about it, a number of Muslims have been arrested for allegedly violating the curfew. These were persons who had come to their damaged dwellings to salvage a few belongings after curfew was imposed. The curfew was lifted only for 4 hours which was inadequate.
Attempts are also being made to project an impression that the violence in Aluthgama was a communal riot in which both Sinhalese and Muslims had equally participated. The Bodhu Bala Sena role in instigating the violence and the meticulously executed attacks on Muslims are being downplayed. The purpose seems to be that of showing that the violence was a spontaneous riot for which both sides must take blame.
In pursuance of this objective three Muslim youths were arrested for allegedly possessing swords. A few more Muslim youths were arrested on the allegation that they had cans of petrol. These news items have been given publicity in some media organs that were silent about the carnage and brutality suffered by innocent Muslim families.
It is indeed cruelly ironic that members of the victimised muslim community are being arrested for trivial offences such as curfew violations while the violent elements who terrorised the Muslim community are moving about freely without a finger being lifted to apprehend them by the Khaki clad guardians of law and order.
GALAGODA ATHTHE GNANASARA THERO
Moreover Vem Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara Thero the notorious General secretary of the Ethno Religious Fascist Bodhu Bala Sena who instigated the anti-Muslim violence in Aluthgama through his rabidly racist inflammatory utterances continues to move around unfettered without any attempt by authorities to hold him accountable for the carnage unleashed.
According to some reports the POlice have arrested more than 25 persons in connection with the Aluthgama violence.According to informed sources the arested persons are both Sinhala and Muslim. However their alleged involvement in the violence was marginal it is said.”The sharks are swimming freely but the sprats and prawns are getting caught”said sources.
As many as 45 persons were arrested on charges of inciting riots and breaching the curfew that was imposed soon after the incidents. “Twenty five have been remanded, the rest obtained bail,” police spokesperson Ajith Rohana told The Hindu.
While the Government has imposed an unofficial media clampdown and is “managing”the news about the actual situation in the Aluthgama aream the prevailing state of affairs is extremely troubling to those who are aware of current realities.
It is against this backdrop of visible ineffectiveness of the Police and STF to maintain law and order that the Army has been called in to assist the Police in certain areas of Kalutara district. As of Tuesday, nearly 10,000 police and Special Task Force personnel have been deployed in the area. “But we needed more strength, so we sought the military’s help,”Poice spokesman Ajith Rohana told “The Hindu”. The decision to deploy the army has been welcomed for the present but it remains to be seen as to whether the army will restrain or be allowed to restrain the violent pseudo-patriotic gangs running riot.
This climate of fear is hampering the return of many Muslims who were displaced during the violence. While some are unable to return because their homes have been totally or extensively damaged others are reluctant to return because of anxiety that the violence could recur again.
The painful experience they underwent has made most Muslims of the area lose trust and confidence in the Police which is viewed as partisan towards those who attacked them on racial and religious grounds. The phenomenon of armed gangs moving about freely during day and night in the midst of a heavy Police presence has exacerbated fears.
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A large number of displaced Muslim families are staying with friends and relatives in nearby places. Many males are staying in Mosques while females and children are in the houses of friends and relations. A few Muslim schools too are converted into makeshift IDP camps.
DISPLACED AT AL HUMAISARA
The largest number of Internally displaced Muslims are accommodated at the Al Humaisara national school in China Fort, Beruwela.264 families are currently housed in the school. Those at the school include 479 adult males , 501 adult females and a large number of children. Among the children are 55 infants being breast fed by their mothers and anoyher 155 kids who are dependent on bottle fed milk.16 of the women are pregnant mothers and 27 persons of both sexes are seniors past the age of 70.
Efforts are being undertaken by concerned individuals and organizations to ensure that the displace people are given food and medical treatment.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org