By Uditha Jayasinghe, Chathuri Dissanayake, and Chandani Kirinde
The Police yesterday arrested 33 people linked to widespread anti-Muslim Ma attacks, which erupted countrywide as Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe renewed appeals for the public to cooperate with security forces and Police to restore calm.
The Police arrested 60 people from the North-Western Province, but only nine people were arrested from Hettipola, and another 10 from Kuliyapitiya, for taking part in attacks. The Police, issuing a short statement, said 14 people had been arrested in Minuwangoda, taking the total to just 33 despite numerous reports of large, well-organised mobs, some numbering in the hundreds.
Nearly half the people taken into custody by Police were detained, mostly for violating curfew, Police Spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said in a short recording released to media. The arrested have been remanded till 29 May.
Police also arrested Mahason Balakaya leader Amith Weerasinghe and Anti-Corruption Force Operations Director Namal Kumara, in the Teldeniya region of Kandy and Warakapola areas respectively. The Nawa Sinhale National Organisation Director Suresh Priyasad alias Dan Priyasad was also arrested by the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) in Colombo. Priyasad was not at home when police arrived at his home to record a statement, but was later arrested after he surrendered to police with the assistance of his lawyer.
Police also re-imposed curfew till 4a.m. countrywide and 6a.m. in Gampaha and North Central Province, as unrest continued. Police lifted curfew in the North Central Province for two hours on Tuesday, from 4p.m.-6p.m., before re-imposing curfew. The North Western Province saw the worst of the violence. Dozens of shops and houses were attacked, and some burned, in a number of areas including Bingiriya, Hettipola, Kuliyapitiya, Dummalasuriya, Kobeiganai, Nikawaratiya, and Panduwasnuwara.
The Kottampitiya area in Panduwasnuwara was also severely affected, with as many as 50 houses being attacked, eyewitnesses said. At least three waves of mobs attacked the predominantly Muslim village, starting from about 11p.m. Monday night, leaving behind damaged houses and burned motorbikes. Other villagers reported similar mobs, with Police and military accused of being ineffective at quelling the violence.Two mosques were damaged in Panduwasnuwara, and many others also attacked in the province. A number of Sinhalese shops were also caught up in the arson attacks, including at least one large clothes shop in Minuwangoda, and a grocery outlet gutted by fire. A large pasta factory was also decimated by fire in Minuwangoda, with management estimating at least Rs.700 million in damages.
The Police also closed liquor shops in the Central Province to reduce the threat of violence. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) on Tuesday also expanded the social media ban imposed at the start of the week by including Twitter.
One man was killed in the mob attacks, but the Police have so far refused to confirm the death. However, his family, speaking to media, have confirmed that he was attacked by a mob and died in hospital. Identified as M.S. Fouzul Ameen (49), he was a well-to-do furniture shop owner from Kottaramulla in Nattandiya. Ameen fell victim to a mob attack on Monday night, passing away at the Marawila Hospital, having sustained serious cut injuries to his neck and face. He was laid to rest by his family, which includes four children, on Tuesday. The Police have also refused to give details of any people who were injured in the attacks.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited areas affected by violence in the Kuliyapitiya area, including Hettipola, on Tuesday,and reiterated the Government’s commitment to assisting victims when he met with them. He held a meeting with Government officials at the Government Agent’s office, to discuss ways to attend to the urgent needs of the people.
“The terrorists disrupted the Easter celebrations, and now this group is trying to disrupt the Vesak celebrations,” the Prime Minister said in Kuliyapitiya. He reiterated armed forces and police have been given full powers to deal with any disruptions to law and order. “We cannot allow these people to hurt innocent people and disrupt Vesak celebrations. The necessary security measures have been put in place, and I appeal to the people to fully cooperate with them.”
Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Minister Rauff Hakeem was among those who visited the affected areas to hear the woes of those in despair after the mob attacks.
In the village of Kottampitiya in the Panduwasnuwara Electorate, he met a group of villagers, many of whom had their houses burnt or badly damaged in Monday’s violence.
“It is unfortunate we hear the same old stories about outside gangs, together with those from surrounding villages, coming in and causing harm and anarchy in this area. They say they know some of these suspects, and lodged a complaint against them about a week ago, but were forced to withdraw the complaint as they threatened to destroy the entire village,” Hakeem said.
He said the Police have assured that they will apprehend the suspects, but in the meantime it is important to ensure that this anarchy does not continue and is contained. “We must get back to normalcy as soon as possible,” he added.
US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz also called for unity from all Sri Lankans.
“Communities must stand united against those who seek to tear them apart. The Easter attacks were attacks against all Sri Lankans. Now all Sri Lankans must stand together against violence and hatred. Don’t let violence represent #SriLanka,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile the Government also released the gazette notification banning National ThowheedJamath, JamatheiMilathu Ibrahim (JMI) and WillayathAsSeylani.
Clergy point to invisible hand with political motives behind violence
Archbishop of Colombo Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith and Ven. Ittapane Dhammalankara Maha Nayaka Thera yesterday alleged that an invisible hand with political motives is behind the violence in the North-Western Province and in Minuwangoda.
Addressing the media, the duo said it was clear that some invisible hand had misled the people two days ago.
“People acted with restraint after the Easter Sunday bomb blasts. They were calm for about two weeks after the incident on 21 April. However, the sudden eruption of violence makes it clear that there is an invisible hand misleading the people,” the Thera said, and appealed to the people to act with restraint.
The Cardinal said he had information that some local politicians, belonging to certain political parties, were behind the violence. “We would like to tell the leaders of these political parties to control their party members,” he said and added that those who resorted to violence had even been offered liquor. The two religious leaders said the authorities had failed to heed their request to carry out search operations.
“We requested the Government to subject all houses to security checks, but the Government had turned a deaf ear to our plea,” the Cardinal added.
He said the weapons used in the two days of violence would have been found, if proper search operations were carried out.
The Thera said people should support the security forces to maintain law and order. “Attacking another person does not make you a hero. This country does not need cardboard heroes,” the Cardinal said.