COLOMBO: Sri Lanka deployed troops and ordered a night-time curfew in a southern town to end violent clashes between two ethnic communities, the government said on Saturday.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka said the situation in Gintota in Galle province was under control, two days after a brawl degenerated into street violence between two groups — one Sinhalese, the country’s mainly Buddhist majority, the other from the Muslim minority.

“Additional police battalions, the police Special Task Force, the anti-riot squad and the military were called in last night to bring the situation under control,” the minister said in a statement.

Six people injured in the clashes were admitted to hospital in Galle city, 115 kilometres south of the capital Colombo, according to local police who arrested 19 people.

It was not clear what triggered the clashes, with accounts varying between a road accident and a land dispute.

The government relaxed the curfew on Saturday morning with a warning that police would arrest any instigators.

Ratnayaka blamed local politicians for attempting to exploit the unrest.

“Some political groups are now on a desperate mission to turn this minor brawl into a Sinhala-Muslim clash. I urge the public not to be misled by their false propaganda,” the minister said.

Muslims account for about 10 per cent of Sri Lanka’s 21 million people and are the second largest minority group after Tamils. Sinhalese make up over 70 per cent of the population.

Authorities said they were keen to avoid a repeat of violence seen in June 2014 when four people were killed and several injured in clashes between the two communities in the same region.

That unrest was blamed on a radical Buddhist extremist group whose leaders are currently facing several court cases for instigating inter-faith violence.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2017

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