Sri Lanka accused of turning blind eye to violence

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard at a Muslim neighborhood in Darga Town in Aluthgama about 50 kilometers south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in this file photo.

Sri Lankan soldiers stand guard at a Muslim neighborhood in Darga Town in Aluthgama about 50 kilometers south of Colombo, Sri Lanka, in this file photo.

ALUTHGAMA: The attackers stormed in close to midnight, tearing through town with gasoline bombs and clubs before carting away piles of cash and jewelry they stole from Muslim families in this tiny corner of Sri Lanka.

The onslaught incited by the Bodu Bala Sena, or Buddhist Power Force, a hard-line group that has gained thousands of followers in recent years, killed at least two Muslims and injured dozens more last month in the worst religious violence Sri Lanka has seen in decades.

Now, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government is under fire, accused of failing to protect Sri Lanka’s tiny Muslim minority and allowing radical Buddhists spewing illegal hate speech to operate with impunity for years.

Critics of Rajapaksa’s government say it has turned a blind eye to the violence as a way to shore up its core constituency — the Sinhalese Buddhist population — which makes up about 75 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people.

“At the root of the failure of the government to check the violence is electoral politics,” said Jehan Perera, head of the National Peace Council, a local peace activist group in Sri Lanka. “If the Sinhalese voters feel insecure for any reason they will tend to vote for the present government, which is seen as strong and pro-Sinhalese.”

But the most recent violence has drawn rare — and harsh — criticism from inside Sri Lanka, with the media, moderate Buddhists and even the justice minister slamming Rajapaksa’s seeming unwillingness to safeguard Muslims.

Foreign embassies and the UN also demanded action. The United States canceled a five-year, multiple-entry visa held by the BBS’s general secretary, according to the group’s chief executive, Dilanta Vithanage.

 

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