Lanka boosted security for Muslim-owned businesses across the
country on Friday after a clothing store was torched by hundreds
of Buddhist hardliners, escalating religious tensions.
Police said commandos of the elite Special Task Force were
deployed in the Colombo suburb of Pepiliyana where mobs from the
ethnic Sinhalese majority stoned and later set fire to a store and
warehouse owned by Muslims late on Thursday.
"We are deploying more mobile patrols in vulnerable areas" across
the country, a senior police officer told AFP, declining to be
named. He said extra police would be guarding popular Muslim-owned
The government in a statement urged people not to be provoked.
"Be aware of anti-democratic, extremists and terrorist forces
destroying public and private property," the government's
information department said. "Do not fall prey to divisive forces
aiming to destabilise Sri Lanka."
The key Muslim coalition partner in President Mahinda Rajapakse's
government, the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC), urged him to
"take proactive action to stop this spread of religious attacks
The SLMC said they were treating Thursday's violence as a "sequel
to the ongoing attacks and hate campaigns" against Muslims and
other religious minorities in the country.
The authorities have not declared a motive for the attack that
injured at least three people, but official sources said Sinhala-Buddhist
hardliners were responsible.
However, the recently formed Buddhist nationalist group, the
monk-led Bodu Bala Sena (BBS), denied involvement and urged
authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"We condemn this attack in the strongest terms," BBS spokesman
Galaboda Aththe Gnanasara told reporters in Colombo, saying he
feared people impersonating the saffron-robed clergy could have
The BBS last month forced Islamic clerics to withdraw halal
certification from food sold locally, claiming that it offended
the majority non-Muslim population.
But Gnanasara said the BBS was only against Islamic extremism.
The Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, an umbrella organisation of
Muslim groups, said tensions had been ratcheted to a new high by
"It has created a fear psychosis among the Muslims," council
president N.M. Ameen told AFP. "We know a majority of the
(Buddhist) people do not support this type of activity."
Army units were called in to disperse Thursday's mob, who pelted
stones, smashed parked vehicles and torched clothing at the
Fashion Bug store.
"The situation was brought under control within a few hours," said
police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena, adding that three members
of the majority Sinhalese community were arrested and a search was
on for several others.
It came a day after Sri Lankan police set up a hotline to tackle
complaints about anyone suspected of "inciting religious or racial
In January, mobs hurled stones at another Muslim-owned clothing
chain near Colombo, while Muslim businessmen have also complained
of random stone-throwing, intimidation and calls for boycotts of
President Rajapakse, who is a Buddhist, urged monks earlier this
year not to incite religious hatred and violence.
The United Nations estimates that Sri Lanka's ethnic civil war
claimed at least 100,000 lives between 1972 and 2009, when Tamil
separatist rebels were crushed in a major military offensive.
Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka's population of 20 million are
Muslim. The majority are Sinhalese Buddhist, while most Tamils are