Sri Lanka is marking ten years since the end of a decades-long civil war that tore the country apart, left tens of thousands of people dead, and as many wounded and missing. But recent sectarian violence has reopened old wounds, and raised fears that lingering resentment, which helped fuel the conflict, was not fully dealt with.
Two weeks ago, a wave of anti-Muslim riots broke out across the country, apparently in retaliation to the Easter Sunday attacks on three churches and three luxury hotels that killed more than 250 people. While ISIL – also known as ISIS – claimed responsibility for the attack, the government has blamed local armed group, the National Thawheed Jamaath (NTJ).
During the riots, mobs moved through towns ransacking mosques, burning Qurans and hurling petrol bombs at shops. A nationwide curfew was put in place and social media networks were shut down in affected areas north and west of the capital. Authorities have so far arrested more than 70 suspected rioters, including three described as “Sinhala Buddhist extremists”. Sri Lanka’s Muslims make up less than 10 percent of the country’s 22 million people. The Sinhalese, who are Buddhist, make up around 75 percent of the population.
The government has called for peace and vowed to protect all citizens. The United Nations has asked for calm and a “rejection of hate”. And, since the curfew was lifted last week, there has been no further violence.
On the next episode of The Stream we discuss this delicate situation, look at the government’s response, and ask what this means for Sri Lanka’s future.
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