Calm returns to mob-hit Sri Lankan towns

Calm has begun to return to violence-hit Muslim neighbourhoods in Sri Lanka's Kandy region, with many shops reopening as army reinforcements largely put an end to Buddhist mob attacks that hit the area.

Army commander Mahesh Senanayake said security forces have managed to control mob violence that hit the area earlier in the week, adding he met community and business leaders on Friday.

He said victims accused the police and the elite police Special Task Force of just looking on while they were targeted.

"It is saddening if this is true. We are compelled to have more soldiers on the streets and the security has been strengthened by bringing in more reinforcements," he said.

Sri Lanka has long faced an ethnic divide between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, fuelling a decades-long civil war as Tamil militants tried to carve out their own homeland. The war ended in 2009.

Since then a religious divide has grown, with the rise of Buddhist nationalist groups who accuse minority Muslims of stealing from Buddhist temples or desecrating them, or forcing people to convert to Islam.

Muslims also own many of Sri Lanka's small shops, and many Muslims suspect small-town jealousy has led to some attacks.

Sinhalese are overwhelmingly Buddhists, while Tamils are mostly Hindu, Muslim and Christian.

The government ordered a state of emergency on Tuesday.

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

Thursday night was largely peaceful. Police said they had arrested 81 people.

Australian Associated Press

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