Asia Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka lawmakers blame anti-Muslim violence on government inaction

COLOMBO, May 23 (Reuters) – Sri Lankan parliamentarians blamed the government on Tuesday for failing to stop a spate of attacks on minority Muslims over the past five weeks.At least 20 incidents have been reported across the country, including arson at Muslim-owned businesses and petrol-bomb attacks on mosques, several legislators, including two from the ruling party, told parliament.

Muslims, who account for around 9 percent of Sri Lanka’s population of 21 million, have blamed the attacks on Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or the “Buddhist Power Force”, an organisation that says the spread of Islam is a threat to Buddhism as the dominant religion. It denies any involvement.

“Without state sponsorship, these actions cannot take place. There is somebody from the government backing the people who are doing these,” said opposition lawmaker Bimal Rathnayake.

S.M. Marikkar, a legislator from the ruling United National Party (UNP), blamed the persistent attacks on a lack of action from the government.

Buddhists make up about 70 percent of the population, and analysts say some hardline Buddhist organisations have been spreading hate speech against Muslims and encouraging people to attack mosques.

The Buddhist groups accuse some Muslim organisations of radicalising the community and forcefully converting people to Islam.

After an attack on a mosque in the northwestern district of Kurunagala, U.S. ambassador Atul Keshap tweeted on Sunday: “Any attack on a house of worship is reprehensible; this is the third in a week. I hope authorities arrest and try the perpetrators soonest.”

Law and order minister Sagala Ratnayaka acknowledged there had been incidents targeting Muslims.

“We will take action to control the situation with immediate effect,” Rathnayake told parliament, without giving specifics.

In 2014, three Muslims were killed in riots stirred up hardline Buddhist groups. President Maithripala Sirisena was elected the following year after a campaign in which he promised to solve the issues faced by ethnic minority Tamils and Muslims. (Reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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