A timber depot burns in Mullegama village in Kandy, Sri Lanka, Wednesday, March. 7, 2018.Religious violence flared anew in the hills of central Sri Lanka on Wednesday despite a state of emergency, with Buddhist mobs sweeping through towns and villages, burning Muslim homes and businesses and leaving victims barricaded inside mosques. (AP Photo/Bharatha Mallawarachchi)

Buddhist mobs attack more Muslim-owned shops in Sri Lanka

March 08, 2018 - 4:39 am

KANDY, Sri Lanka (AP) — Buddhist mobs swept through Muslim neighborhoods in Sri Lanka's central hills, destroying stores and restaurants despite a curfew, a state of emergency and a 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, he said.

"The security in town is inadequate," Ramzeen said. "We fear for our lives."

Others in the area around Kandy, the main hill town, 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.

In suburban Pallekele, four houses were burned by mobs using petrol bombs during the curfew Wednesday night.

Mohamed Nazar said only he and his 64-year-old father remained in their house after they sent other family members to a relative's house for safety after the violence started.

"Around 8 p.m., rocks started hitting the house with a mob shouting outside and we put the lights off. Then a large flame came and the house caught fire," Nazar said.

He said his father hid under a sofa, but he grabbed him and they ran out.

Police came and put out the fire, but much of his family's belongings were destroyed, he said.

The government ordered a state of emergency Tuesday and shut down popular social media networks, saying they were being used to spread false rumors that led to the 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 newspaper. "Social media websites such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Viber ... 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 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 mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

The violence and heavy security presence are largely limited to the island's central hills. In the capital, Colombo, and other cities and towns, there are few if any signs of trouble.

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