KANDY, Sri Lanka (AP) — Buddhist mobs are still sweeping through Muslim neighborhoods in Sri Lanka’s central hills, destroying stores and restaurants despite a curfew, a state of emergency and heavy deployment of security forces, residents said Thursday.
About 50 people broke into Mohamed Ramzeen’s small restaurant in the town of Pilimathalawa on Wednesday night while the curfew was in effect, destroying nearly everything they found.
“The security in town is inadequate,” Ramzeen said. “We fear for our lives.”
Others in the area around Kandy, the main hill town, have described similar attacks since the violence began early this week. The streets of most towns were all-but empty Thursday except for police and soldiers.
The government ordered a state of emergency Tuesday, and has shut down a handful of popular social media networks, saying they were being used to spread false rumors that led to mob attacks.
“Technology created to bring people together, is being used to pull people apart,’ technology minister Harin Fernando was quoted as saying by the Sri Lanka Mirror. “Social media websites such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber — which were created to bring us closer to our friends and family and make communication free and convenient, have been used to destroy families, lives and private property.”
Sri Lanka has long faced a bitter ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fueling a bloody, decades-long civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland.
But in the years since the war ended in 2009, a religious divide has grown, with the rise of hard-line Buddhist groups that stoke anger against minority Muslims.
Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are Hindu, Muslim and Christian.
The violence and the heavy security presence are largely contained to the island’s central hills. In the capital, Colombo, and other cities and towns, there are few if any signs of trouble.