ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s leading Roman Catholic Prelate says pogroms against Muslims three weeks after the 2019 Easter Sunday suicide attacks on Churches by Islamic extremists were carried out “by political elements who had nothing to do with the Christian community.”
Addressing a press conference today, Thursday, April 16, Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith said the attacks on Muslim-owned homes and businesses weeks after the suicide assaults were “by organized groups inspired by political elements wanting to create a rift between the Muslim and Christian minorities in Sri Lanka.”
Ranjith, the Catholic Bishop of Colombo and the island’s only Cardinal, called on the government to investigate these attacks as they were aimed at “destabilizing Sri Lanka and plunging us into conflict.”
He said that his community was able to control angry members of his community from retaliating against Muslims after last year’s suicide attacks on Churches on Easter Sunday that killed more than 260 people.
“It was hard but we were able to hold them back in the interest of the country,” he told reporters.
“We did not want to drag our country back into the era where we had thirty years of ethnic conflict,” he said referring to the devastating separatist conflict between the state and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam that shackled the island nation.
He recalled that even a week after the attacks some “politically motivated elements” tried to attack Muslim places of worship in the Catholic majority city of Negombo.
Ranjith said that he and the head of the apex body of the Islamic clergy in Sri Lanka Mufti Rizwe Mohammad immediately visited the mosques in Negombo and were able to calm both communities.
Two weeks later, Ranjith recalled, he went to a place where the Muslim communities had been attacked.
“I asked members of the Catholic community whether they had stoned the Muslims and their shops and they told me the attacks were carried out by mobs that came from areas outside their towns,” Ranjith said.’
In extensive reporting, EconomyNext did in the areas where these conflicts had arisen we heard the same stories the Cardinal did.
In the town of Minuwangoda, a 20-minute drive from the country’s only international airport, more than 93 businesses were attacked and torched three weeks after the Easter Sunday attacks.
Most of the businesses that were damaged or completely destroyed are owned by the Muslim community although shops owned by members of other communities were also damaged as fires raged through the prosperous town.
The “mobs” described by the Cardinal consisted of young men between the ages of 18 and 24 who mostly wore full-face motorcycle helmets and were armed with cobble-stones.
They looted local businesses and vandalized them before setting fire to parts of the town. Local shop-owners we interviewed accused police of not intervening to stop them.
Local businessmen, civil leaders and clergy told us that they were organized by allies of the current ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party.
The Police sought warrants against Madhu Madhava Aravinda, a leader of the Pivithuru Hela Urumaya for leading the mob in Minuwangoda but eventually failed to arrest him. (Colombo, 16 April 2020)