Lanka deploys forces after Muslim store torched by Buddhist monks



Colombo: A mob, including Buddhist monks, allegedly stoned and set afire a Muslim-owned business in Sri Lanka in the latest attacks directed against the minority, prompting authorities to deploy security forces to bring the situation under control.

In last night's attack, a showroom of the Fashion Bug clothing chain in Pepiliyana, a suburb of Sri Lankan capital Colombo, was stoned ans the glasses were smashed before the merchandise was set on fire.

Several people were injured and several other vehicles and buildings sustained damages, local media reports said.

Bodu Bala Sena (Buddhist Force), however, on Friday denied any involvement in the violence and termed it as a systematic attack to discredit them.

"We condemn it in strongest terms, we are not involved. This is a systematic attack to discredit us," Venerable Galagdoatte Gnanasara, a leading BBS monk, told reporters.

The police and the elite Special Task Force (STF) had reportedly brought the situation under control now.

The suspicions were directed at BBS after they recently stirred up an anti-Muslim campaign and forced Muslim clerics to withdraw "halal" certification from food sold in the local market, saying it was offensive to the majority non-Muslim population.

Muslims comprise less than 10 per cent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population where the majority are Sinhalese Buddhist.

"We are only opposed to Muslim extremism and not against Muslim moderates", Gnanasara added. He said he would urge the police to arrest the culprits responsible for the cloth store attack.

"We don't want another communal clash in the country".

The attack and a persistent BBS campaign against Muslims have caused wide spread Muslim fears. As part of the campaign to prevail on the majority Sinhalese to boycott Muslim businesses, the Buddhist Force in January had attempted to storm a Muslim-owned department store.

The Council of Muslims early this month wrote to President Mahinda Rajapaksa for protection.

Meanwhile, in a letter to President Rajapaksa, Leader of Sri Lanka Muslim Congress and Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem has asked to convene a cabinet meeting to discuss "the rising religious unrest and civil disturbance in the country".

Hakeem said he was recording his displeasure and condemnation on the attack. He believed it was carried out as a sequel to the ongoing attacks on the religious places and hate campaigns against the Muslims and other religious minority communities in the country.

Hakeem's letter came as the Sinhala Buddhist nationalist Bodu Bala Sena denied any involvement in last night's attack.

The Buddhist Forces have urged police to arrest the culprits.

PTI