Communal violence has raised its ugly head again in the Western coastal city of Negombo 32 KM to the North of Colombo on Sunday May 5th.
Although sections of the mainstream media have either blacked out or played down the events in Negombo as a clash between two groups of people due to a personal dispute, the ugly and inconvenient truth is that the Negombo violence was basically anti-Muslim in nature.
Although a curfew was imposed and security forces were deployed to keep the peace , there are disturbing reports that many incidents of anti-Muslim violence occurred during the night while security forces were on duty.
The problem is reported to have begun in the afternoon in the area of Negombo known as Poruthota in Sinhala and Pahalathurai in Tamil. A dispute between two individual Muslim and Sinhala, three-wheeler drivers had escalated into a verbal duel and scuffle between groups of Sinhala and Muslim trishaw drivers.
Thereafter groups of Sinhalese persons armed with poles and knives had “invaded” Poruthota in the evening and engaged in violence. Many of them were intoxicated. They also brought cans and bottles of fuel.Muslims were attacked and houses stoned. Vehicles including three trishaws and a motor cycle were burnt.Most of the Muslims in the area sought refuge in the Mosque while the mobs ran riot.Unconfirmed reports say the mobs were instigated by some local politicians.
Authorities were contacted by the besieged Muslims. The Police and security forces were called in. The security forces dispersed the mobs through persuasion. No action was taken against any miscreant.
A curfew was imposed from 8. 30 pm to 7 am on May 6th. Police curfew was imposed in ten police divisions including Negombo, Kochchikade, Katunayake, Divulapitiya, Kotadeniyawa, Pamunugama, Raddolugama, Seeduwa, Dungalpitiya and Katana.
However gangs of armed men had once again resorted to anti – Muslim violence during the night while the curfew was in force. Power was cut off in certain localities while the gangs entered some Muslim homes and wrought havoc destroying furniture. They also smashed window panes, There was no looting. Vehicles parked outside were damaged or burnt. Many houses were stoned.
Many of the incidents happened within the sight of the security forces who simply remained passive and did nothing. Most of the Muslim families ran away or hid in fear while the violence happened. Much of the violence was in the Sellakanda and Periyamulla areas of Negombo. Dozens of houses and many vehicles were damaged in different degrees. A Mosque too was damaged
After numerous frantic telephone calls by beleaguered Muslims to different people including many Police officers, additional reinforcements were sent to the troubled areas with firm instructions to clamp down on the violence by Defence secretary Maj-Gen (Retd) Shantha Kottegoda. At least two persons were arrested.The anti -Muslim violence gradually subsided and mobs dispersed.
It is learnt that several Catholic clergymen too arrived at the trouble spots and persuaded the mobs to go back. They pointed out the appeal made by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith that Catholics and Christians should not do any harm to their Muslim brethren.
No incidents have been reported since the relaxation of the curfew on Monday morning.
In a very commendable gesture Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith visited Negombo on Monday morning and inspected affected areas like Porithota and Periyamulla. He also went to the Negombo Grand Mosque and reassured Muslim clergymen. The Cardinal also re-issued his appeal that Catholics and Christian should not harm the Muslims who were their brothers being “children of Abraham”.
Meanwhile it is learnt that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has ordered a survey and damage estimate of the Negombo violence with the intention of awarding compensation where necessary.
Tensions between Muslims and Christians both Catholics and Protestants have intensified in Negombo after the Easter Sunday suicide bomber attacks in which 253 were killed and over 400 injured. Three churches and three hotels were targeted. The largest number of casualties were from the Congregation of St. Sebastians Church at Katuwapoitiya in Negombo.
The ethnic breakdown in Negombo is roughly 75 % Sinhala, 14 % Muslim and 9 % Tamil.