Sri Lanka raises patrols to help protect Muslims

AFP-JIJI

Elite police commandos patrolled a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital Friday after hundreds of rampaging Buddhist hardliners torched a Muslim-owned business in the latest of a series of mob attacks.

At least three people were hurt when majority Sinhalese mobs stoned and later torched a clothing store in Pepiliyana on Thursday night, police spokesman Buddhika Siriwardena said.

“We have deployed extra units of STR (the Special Task Force) and police to guard the area,” Siriwardena said. “The situation was brought under control within a few hours.”

No arrests had been made, Siriwardena said.

The authorities have not declared a motive for the attack, but official sources said it appeared to be a part of the ongoing targeting of minority Muslim businesses by a group of Sinhalese Buddhist hardliners.

Hundreds of men stormed the Fashion Bug store, smashed several vehicles parked outside and set fire to merchandise before escaping on Thursday night, witnesses said. Army units were called in to disperse the mob as tension gripped the area.

Mobs pelted stones at another Muslim-owned clothing chain near Colombo in January, while Muslim businessmen have complained of random stone-throwing incidents and intimidation.

Buddhist hardliners last month forced Islamic clerics to withdraw halal certifications from food in the local market, saying it was offensive to the majority non-Muslim population.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is a Buddhist, urged monks earlier this year not to incite religious hatred and violence.

Less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Muslim.