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* Amnesty asks Sri Lanka to take immediate action to prevent further violence
Tue, Jun 17, 2014, 11:27 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

June 17, Colombo: A global human right watchdog today asked the Sri Lankan government to take immediate action to end communal clashes and prevent violence before it spreads further.

"Sri Lankan authorities must act immediately to end anti-Muslim violence in the country, and to rein in groups that violently target religious minorities," Amnesty International (AI) said in a statement today.

"This is the worst outbreak of communal violence in Sri Lanka in years and there is a real risk of it spreading further," David Griffiths, Amnesty International's Deputy Asia Pacific Director warned.

"The government must do everything in its power to end it immediately, while respecting the human rights of all concerned. Those responsible for killings and other acts of violence must be held to account, and at-risk Muslim communities given the protection they need," the rights activist urged.

The weekend violence led to the deaths of two people and injured more than 48 in the southern coastal towns of Aluthgama and Beruwala, an official government statement said. Earlier reports of a death of a Buddhist monk were not true, the Sri Lanka Police Chief said.

Communal clashes erupted in Aluthgama on Sunday following a rally organized by the Buddhist extremist group Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) to protest an earlier incident of manhandling a Buddhist monk by a Muslim youth.

The London-based global right organization charged the Sri Lankan security forces of failing to intervene and prevent the violence.

"Eyewitness reports that police have stood by and refused to intervene in the violence are very troubling and must also be investigated. Security forces have a duty to protect the right of everyone to life and security regardless of their beliefs or identity," the AI said.

The AI also criticized the government for granting permission, despite Muslim community leaders warning that the situation could escalate, to stage the BBS rally on Sunday that sparked the violence, apparently without putting in place the means to prevent or stop it.

Despite police imposing a curfew, anti-Muslim mob violence continued over Monday and Tuesday, resulting in widespread destruction of property, with Muslims' homes and shops burned and looted.

"There has been a disturbing rise in attacks and harassment of religious minorities in Sri Lanka over the two past years, mostly led by groups with a hard-line Buddhist or nationalist agenda, and these groups are reported to have strong links to high-ranking government officials. Rising violence against religious minorities cannot be treated as an isolated issue - stopping it must be a crucial part of the national reconciliation that is so badly needed since the conflict's end in 2009," the AI official said.

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