Army chief says if there were any evidence of troops colluding with rioters, he would not hesitate to take action
Sri Lanka’s army on Thursday denied allegations that its troops colluded with anti-Muslim mobs and failed to contain widespread riots that killed one man in a backlash against the Easter terror attacks.
Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said CCTV footage of troops allegedly signaling a mob to attack a home in the latest wave of rioting did not show his soldiers committing any wrongdoing. “We looked at footage from three cameras and found that there was no conniving of troops with the rioters,” Senanayake told reporters in Colombo. “If there was any, I would not hesitate to take action.”
He said the mobs included a lot of young men who were drunk. However, he did not say where the controversial CCTV footage came from. He added that soldiers had initially been outnumbered against hundreds of men armed with sticks and petrol bombs who attacked Muslim-owned businesses, homes and mosques.
The military has stepped up its presence in the worst affected North-Western Province to prevent a repeat of the violence, Senanayake said. Some 5,500 additional police have also been deployed in the province.
Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said the government decided not to impose further night curfews on Thursday because there had been no reports of violence around the country in the past 24 hours. “We are continuing search operations to arrest those responsible for the riots,” he added.
Police said they had detained at least 112 suspects by Wednesday evening and more arrests were being carried out to ensure there was no repetition of the riots.
Colombo-based ambassadors of European nations expressed concern over the communal violence and urged the authorities to ensure that all communities were protected. “We welcome the arrests made in connection with the violence, and call on the government to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and that the law is applied equally to all instigators and perpetrators of communal violence,” a joint statement by the diplomats said.
A shopkeeper in Minuwangoda, one of the worst affected towns just north of Colombo, said roads were reopened on Thursday amid a heavy military and police presence. “I normally have about 30 customers in the morning, but today there were just three,” the electronic goods seller told AFP by telephone. “Banks have opened, but it will take a few weeks before we get back to our normal routine.”
There were similar reports from other riot-scarred towns.
The Easter Sunday attacks on churches and upscale hotels claimed 258 lives and were blamed on local jihadists who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Muslims in Sri Lanka have been bracing for reprisals since the Easter bombings. A state of emergency has been in place since the attacks and security forces have been given sweeping powers to detain suspects.
Sri Lanka has also blocked access to social media platforms to prevent what it called the spread of rumors that incited violence.