Monday, 27 May 2019

In Sri Lanka, Muslims say Sinhala neighbours turned against them






The stench of turpentine overpowered Jiffriya Ameer as she cradled her husband's head on her lap on the front porch of her home and watched the blood drain from the gaping wound on his head and neck. Her three children watched in horror as their father gasped for breath.

She screamed for help, but three police officers stood, looking on in disbelief, she said. The only vehicle which could take 49-year old Saleem Ameer to the hospital was engulfed in flames.

Minutes earlier, a Sinhalese mob had attacked Ameer with swords, fatally wounding him before pouring turpentine on his face.

In the towns hit by violence, both Muslims and Sinhalese said they still felt unsafe, despite the increased presence of the armed forces in the region.

Jiffriya's Sinhalese neighbour said he feared reprisal attacks, and pointed to the presence of naval officers as evidence of such a threat.

Meanwhile, many Muslims said they fear they could be attacked again.

In Thummadora, another affected town about 40km east of Colombo, Abdul Wahid Mohamed Risvi, a 44-year-old father of three, is terrified about the possibility of more violence.

"I haven't gone to work in a week because I cannot leave my children alone. I cannot sleep well either," he said.

Many Muslims also said they no longer trust the police or the military to protect them.

"Before the incident took place, we asked for protection from the local monks and the police," Aboo Haneefa Mohammed Ahsan, 26, told Al Jazeera in Thummadora. "They promised to provide security. But we were attacked anyway."

Gunasekara admitted that "some incidents were reported in some areas after curfew", but added that the "situation was brought under control" after the military was deployed.

The army investigated accusations of its complicity in the attacks after a video emerged on social media purportedly showing a soldier in Thummadora gesturing to a mob to attack a mosque. The army concluded that the soldier was merely adjusting an arm strap.

Acting army spokesman General Roshan Seneviratne told Al Jazeera that "no incidents took place wherever the army was deployed".

'We can't look at each other's faces'
Meanwhile, residents in the affected towns report their long-existing relationships with their neighbours have deteriorated.

"We maintained a good relationship with the Sinhala community before the incident. Now we can't even look at each other's faces," Ahsan said.

Victims have said people from their own neighbourhoods were also involved in some of the attacks.

Mohammed Thowfeek Abdul Kamil, 39, said the CCTV footage of a mob attacking his electronics store in Nikerapitiya revealed that most of the perpetrators were local men.

"I recognised them when I watched the video," he said.

However, Risvi said while some of the local Sinhala population in Thummadora joined in the attacks, there were others who tried to protect their Muslim neighbours, sometimes at great personal risk.

"When two elderly Muslim women walked into the town, a Sinhalese family came to the road and brought them into their home to protect them. Some Sinhalese also tried to dissuade the mobs from attacking," he said.

One Sinhalese women in Thummadora, who requested anonymity, warned three Muslim families of the impending attacks and hid them in her home. She said she was terrified for her own family's safety but saw it as her duty to protect her neighbours.

"As a Buddhist, I must do my best to protect other people, regardless of their religion," she said.


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