Sri Lanka Buddhist rally erupts into fatal anti-Muslim riot

A fire set during Buddhist-Muslim rioting in southwest Sri Lanka.

A fire set during Buddhist-Muslim rioting in southwest Sri Lanka

A Buddhist-led protest march in southwestern Sri Lanka Sunday erupted into riots targeting the local Muslim population in three towns, leaving three people dead and scores injured, according to numerous sources. The sources agree that the rally was led by members of Sri Lanka’s extremist Buddhist group, Bodu Bala Sena (“Buddhist Power Force”), and soon devolved into vandals burning and otherwise damaging Muslim mosques, prayer halls, shops, and homes, but accounts differ after that. The New York Times reports that tensions grew after a fight Thursday “between a Muslim youth and a Buddhist monk,” whereas the BBC states it was a “clash between Muslim youths and a Buddhist monk’s driver.” The BBC further reported that “police used tear gas to quell the violence” and that “unconfirmed reports say security forces also used gunfire” to enforce a curfew, while the Times quotes local Muslims saying that “the police watched impassively” and “eventually appeared in the early hours of Monday to transport the dead and injured.”

Aljazeera America reports on the instigating rally itself. Translating from video posted to YouTube, it quotes Rev. Galagoda Atte Gnanasara, the monk who serves as the General Secretary for Bodu Bala Sena, as “warn[ing] Muslims against attacking Sinhalese, the majority of whom are Buddhist”:

“‘We still have Sinhala police in this country, still we have a Sinhala military. From today, if any Muslim… mishandles any Sinhalese, that will be the end of them,’ he said.”

Even so, “Gnanasaara said the BBS had not been involved in the clashes and blamed them on ‘an extreme Muslim group’ that had picked a fight with the Sinhalese, according to a release on Monday.”

The area remains under police curfew.