Buddhist mobs sweep through Muslim neighbourhoods in the country's central hills, destroying stores and setting homes on fire despite a curfew and a state of emergency.

Muslims in Kandy complained that security forces and police – equipped with special powers to detain under the emergency provision – were slow to react as the violence unfolded.
Muslims in Kandy complained that security forces and police – equipped with special powers to detain under the emergency provision – were slow to react as the violence unfolded. (Reuters)

Sri Lankan police said petrol bombs were hurled at a mosque on Thursday as hundreds of troops patrolled a troubled central district where anti-Muslim violence has left three people dead.

Muslim-owned businesses were set on fire and vandalised in several parts of Sri Lanka, police said, days after an island-wide state of emergency was imposed to curb riots in Kandy.

Armoured vehicles and heavily-armed troops fortified the hill district, where internet services remain suspended and an evening curfew is in place.  

The government ordered the internet blackout after police discovered mobs of Sinhalese rioters were using social media to coordinate attacks on Muslim establishments. 

More than 200 homes, businesses and vehicles have been torched in three days of violence by mobs from the mainly Buddhist Sinhalese majority. 

A 24-hour curfew was imposed on Wednesday afternoon after a hand grenade exploded in the hands of an attacker, killing him and wounding 11 others, officials said.

The day-time curfew was eased following a calm night but tensions remain high in the tourist hotspot and schools shuttered.

But in Kuruvita, 125 kilometres south of Kandy, police said petrol bombs were lobbed at a mosque. 

Little damage was inflicted and three suspects are being pursued.

In Weligama, 240 kilometres south of Kandy, a Muslim-owned business was attacked, police said, while Muslim establishments were pelted with stones in at least two other locations outside Kandy.

Muslims in Kandy complained that security forces and police – equipped with special powers to detain under the emergency provision – were slow to react as the violence unfolded.

"The main junction is going up in flames. At the same time, the authorities are folding their arms and watching," said Muslim businessman M Jaffer, as quoted in Thursday's Daily FT newspaper.

Sri Lanka on March 5 declared a nationwide state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots that have killed at least two people and damaged dozens of mosques and homes, a minister said. March 7, 2018
Sri Lanka on March 5 declared a nationwide state of emergency to quell anti-Muslim riots that have killed at least two people and damaged dozens of mosques and homes, a minister said. March 7, 2018 (AFP)

Appeals for peace

Former Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara alluded to the island's history of ethnic violence in urging his countrymen "to say no to racism".

"We have to make sure that in Sri Lanka anyone and everyone feels safe, loved and accepted regardless of ethnicity or religion," he said in a video posted to Twitter.

The Kandy region, 115 kilometres east of the capital Colombo, is popular with tourists as well as Buddhist pilgrims.

Holidaymakers have been urged to avoid the hill resort but no foreigners have been reported involved in the unrest.

STOP #Digana #SriLanka

A post shared by Kumar Sangakkara Personal Page (@sangalefthander) on

"Shops are opening, and more people can be seen on the roads since the curfew was lifted," a police official in the area said by telephone.

Kandy is home to Sri Lanka's holiest Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth Relic.

The chief custodian of the UNESCO-listed temple, Pradeep Nilanga Dela, said foreign tourists and pilgrims were flocking to the shrine despite tensions.

TRT World spoke to journalist Ash Gallagher in Colombo for more details.

Tourist town turned dark

The unrest began on Monday after a Sinhalese man died following injuries sustained allegedly at the hands of a Muslim mob last week. 

Conflict escalated further when a Muslim man was found dead in a burnt building on Tuesday.

Sinhalese Buddhists are the majority ethnic group in Sri Lanka, making up 75 percent of its 21 million people. Muslims make up 10 percent of the population.

Parliament on Tuesday issued an apology to the island's Muslim minority for the latest violence targeting them in the Indian Ocean island.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies