Sri Lankan Muslims about sectarian violence

Armed forces in Digana, Sri Lanka

By Rohantha De Silva and K. Gamini in Sri Lanka:

Sri Lanka: Muslims explain how the organised violence occurred

13 March 2018

Anti-Muslim violence initiated by extremist Sinhala-Buddhist groups in the Teldeniya-Digana area of Kandy began on the evening of March 4 and continued for about four days. The death of a Sinhalese lorry driver, following an assault by four Muslims men, was seized on by right-wing Sinhala-Buddhist formations to unleash their attacks.

Police lifted a curfew on Sunday but social tensions in the Kandy area remain. Police and military personnel are conducting intermittent patrols of Kandy town and the affected area with soldiers stationed at some locations.

According to the police, almost 7,000 security officers, including 3,250 from the army and air force, have been deployed. Over 220 people have been arrested—161 from the Kandy area and 69 from outside the district.

When World Socialist Web Site (WSWS) reporters visited Teldeniya-Digana a few days ago, the damage done by the violence was clearly visible. Houses and shops had been attacked and burnt down, and residents expressed fear, despair and outrage over the vicious destruction suddenly unleashed against them.

According to those interviewed by the WSWS, the violent rampage was initiated by the fascistic Mahasohon Balakaya (MB—Greatest Demon) and Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) formations. Mahasohon Balakaya, which was established a few years ago, has a public office in Digana. Both organisations, which claim to be “protecting” the Sinhala race and Buddhism, are infamous for targeted attacks on Muslims. Sri Lankan police have arrested MB leader Amith Weerasinghe and several other associates on suspicion of directing the violent rampage.

One resident explained to the WSWS: “Mahasohon Balakaya is mainly responsible for the incident. It made a video three years ago in which one of its leaders, Amith Weerasinghe, claimed there was not a single Sinhala shop in Digana. He declared that Digana had become a ‘Muslim country.’”

A mosque that was damaged by attackers

One youth told WSWS reporters: “It is not the Sinhala-Buddhist civilians in the area that attacked us. The arson and destruction was carried out by extremist groups. In Kengalla [an affected village] alone, around 25 shops and 50 houses were destroyed. Even the mosque was damaged. There was fire everywhere and the area was filled with black smoke.”

“Our Sinhala neighbours helped us like brothers”, he continued. “It is they who protected us. They were very sad for what happened… During Vesak [the main Buddhist festival] we also participate organising Dansal [alms giving]. We don’t condone those four who killed the driver but why are we, the innocent attacked?”

Another resident explained that the extremist thugs, mainly young boys and girls, came into the area on motor cycles and that a lorry was also used for transport. Petrol bombs, metal and wooden bars and stones were used in the attack. While much of the destruction was recorded on CCTV, most of the thugs masked their faces with cloth and the police allowed the violence to occur.

Inside a house that was attacked

The resident also demanded to know what the ruling United National Party (UNP)-Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government was doing and referred to the government’s deployment of police against university students protesting the privatisation of education.

“They can block kilometres-long protest marches using barricades and teargas, but don’t do anything against several hundred thugs. The thugs can come and attack and then just go away… The politicians in Kandy were sleeping. They did not do anything.”

The resident expressed sadness over the death of the lorry driver. “He was a very good person and very friendly towards Muslim people.”

M Saheed

M. Saheed said, “The attackers wanted us to be provoked and to retaliate so that they can say we are ISIS. But we are peace-loving people and the majority of Sinhala people are with us. They are helping us, providing food and rooms for shelter and temporary accommodation.”

Rizvi, who works in Kuwait, was anxious about the safety of his family and returned to Sri Lanka last week.

“Every day I speak to my family and I contacted them in the morning, at around 10.30, one day after the attacks began. My wife said that there is no problem but then I learnt that there had been trouble in the area two hours later.” Rizvi called again but no one answered and he began crying in the shop where he was working in Kuwait.

“I eventually found out that my wife and two children, together with her sister-in-law and her two daughters, aged 8 and 2, were hiding in the bushes. They hid there for around three hours and were very scared”, he said.

“A Sinhala woman saw them and took them to her house even though her husband and daughter had gone to work. She was alone but courageously took them inside, gave them tea and food, closed all the doors and protected them.”

The terrifying situation facing Rizvi’s wife and children was typical of what happened to many Muslim people in the area.

A student looking at her burnt books

WSWS reporters also spoke with Muslim residents in Digana. According to residents, the thugs brought an empty coffin and initiated their attack from a section of Digana known as New Town. A Buddhist monk was among the 500 perpetrators. One group drove to Kengalla and another attacked Muslim businesses and houses in the Digana area. Residents have accused police commandos of supporting the thugs.

Mohamed said, “This is a side road from Digana and we didn’t think they would come here so we didn’t even have time to hide. There were thousands of rupees worth of cigarettes and telephone re-charge cards, among other items, destroyed. The fridge and the TV were also damaged.”

Numbers of Digana residents have left their homes and temporarily moved to other locations. Fatima Bibi said: “We were living in peace with Sinhala civilians and they were very friendly with us. We don’t care what happened to the four [who attacked the Sinhala driver] but why were we attacked? Our son just started a small business and his office was attacked. The front door was broken.

“My daughter and her baby were at home at that time but they then hid in a safer place. Scared that their small daughter would cry, they closed her mouth with a piece of cloth.”

These communalist attacks are not aberrations but follow a definite pattern. Fascistic organisations like Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya and Mahasohon Balakaya were promoted by President Mahinda Rajapakse when in power and have been appeased and nurtured by the current government.

On Saturday, the Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, along with his Sinhala and Muslim cabinet ministers, visited the destroyed and vandalised areas. He promised compensation for those affected and then presided over a meeting of ministers and various government bureaucrats. The meeting was told that 465 houses, shops and vehicles had been damaged—86 fully destroyed, 196 partially and 182 minimal—in the anti-Muslim pogrom.

A house completely destroyed during the rampage

Wickremesinghe feigned concern, declared that the violence was a “challenge” to tourism, an indication of where his real interests lie, and urged the Buddhist hierarchy to “educate the people about unity and co-existence.”

Wickremesinghe’s comments are dripping with cynicism and hypocrisy. No amount of commissions or political appeals will eliminate the root cause of the ongoing extremist violence.

The Buddhist hierarchy and successive governments have promoted anti-Tamil and anti-Muslim chauvinism in order to divide and derail the working class and defend the power and privileges of the Sri Lankan ruling elite. The encouragement of these reactionary forces by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government and the Rajapakse-led opposition is in direct response to the deepening economic and political crisis of Sri Lankan capitalism.

Sri Lanka continues to use the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to torture detainees and extract confessions under President Maithripala Sirisena’s administration, according to Locked Up Without Evidence, a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW): here.


Anti-refugee violence in Sri Lanka

This video says about itself:

28 September 2017

Rohingya refugees have been attacked in Sri Lanka.

A crowd threw stones at a United Nations shelter on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo.

Police had to escort dozens of them to safety.

Al Jazeera’s Minelle Fernandez reports from Colombo.

Unfortunately, Italy is not the only country where there is xenophobic violence.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Nationalist Buddhists protest against the arrival of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar to Sri Lanka.

The government sent soldiers and extra police to Kandy, after arson by Buddhist groups in Muslim shops.

Sri Lankan president declares emergency rule amid violence against Muslims: here.

Oppose Sinhala racist violence against Muslim community in Sri Lanka: here.

Asian elephants scared of honey bees

This video says about itself:

African honey bees change lives and save elephants

14 November 2015

The Elephants and Bees Project is an innovative study using an in-depth understanding of elephant behaviour to reduce damage from crop-raiding elephants using their instinctive avoidance of African honey bees. The project explores the use of novel Beehive Fences as a natural elephant deterrent creating a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities through pollination services and the sustainable harvesting of “Elephant-Friendly Honey”.

Elephants & Bees is thrilled to share this short video on the project’s amazing milestones. Get to learn how bees are bringing harmony to communities that live with wildlife.

From the University of Oxford in England:

Wild Sri Lankan elephants retreat from sound of disturbed Asian honey bees

January 22, 2018

Summary: A new study using playbacks has for the first time shown that Asian elephants in Sri Lanka are scared of honey bees, much like their African counterparts. The study showed that Asian elephants responded with alarm to the bee simulations. They also retreated significantly further away and vocalized more in response to the bee sounds compared to controls.

For the first time, researchers have shown that Asian elephants in Sri Lanka are scared of honey bees, much like their African counterparts.

Playbacks have been used for many years to explore the behavioural responses of African elephants to a suspected natural threat, but the research, published in Current Biology, is the first time this technique has been used to record how Asian elephants react to the sound of bees.

The study, led by Dr Lucy King, a Research Associate with the Oxford University Department of Zoology and head of the Human-Elephant Co-Existence Program for Save the Elephants, showed that Asian elephants responded with alarm to the bee simulations. They also retreated significantly further away and vocalised more in response to the bee sounds compared to controls.

In collaboration with elephant scientists from Cornell University, Save the Elephants, Trunks and Leaves, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and University of Peradeniya the team now hope that beehive deterrents, used so successfully to ward off African elephants from rural farm lands, can be applied to prevent Asian elephant populations from raiding crops.

Dr Lucy King said: “Asia has even higher levels of human-elephant conflict than Africa does and Asian elephants are approximately 10 times more endangered than African elephants. If we could help apply the results from this research to develop effective community-based beehive fence deterrent systems for rural Asian farmers living with elephants, we could have a significant impact on the survival of the Asian elephant species.”

The study was performed in Udawalawe National Park, which has an exceptionally large elephant population. “Udawalawe is a microcosm for the issues Asian elephants face, because it is practically encircled by agriculture and settlements. This study takes the first step in offering a new way of addressing the conflicts that arise as a result,” said Dr. Shermin de Silva, Director of the Udawalawe Elephant Research Project.

In partnership with the Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society and Australia’s Newcastle University, a network of 10 trial beehive fence projects are presently being tested to see if they can reduce human-elephant conflict for rural farms in central Sri Lanka.

“We have a wonderful community of willing farmers there who are helping us understand if beehive fences could work to reduce conflict in this intensely high human-elephant conflict zone”, said Dr King. “Although beehive fences may not completely stop elephant crop-raids the honey bees provide other benefits to the farms in the form of pollination services and a sustainable income from honey and wax products.”

The initiative is already harvesting honey from the beehives and four beekeeping workshops have been held to boost beekeeping knowledge and honey processing skills. Further Asian beehive fence collaborations are being formed with scientists in Thailand, India and Nepal.

Sri Lankan elephants saved from drowning

This video says about itself:

Sri Lanka NAVY rescues two elephants washed out to sea in Trincomalee

23 July 2017

A group of naval personnel attached to the Eastern Naval Command managed to rescue 2 elephants that were swept out to the sea, in between Round Island and Foul Point, Trincomalee this morning (July, 23).

The jumbos in troubled waters were first noticed by an Inshore Patrol Craft on routine sea patrol. Upon being alerted the Department of Wildlife in Trincomalee, a combined rescue mission was launched by the Navy and Wildlife officials to save these 2 wild elephants. Responding promptly to the situation, the Navy augmented the rescue mission by deploying 3 more Fast Attack Craft on patrol and a team of Navy Divers.

Accordingly, the mammoth effort of the rescue teams saw the two jumbos being carefully directed to the shore without causing any harm to the animals. Having safely guided the two elephants to the shore, they were subsequently released to the Foul Point jungle.

According to Dutch NOS TV, the boats arrived just in time, as the elephants had become tired and had a problem in staying above water.

And ten days earlier, this had happened:

13 July 2017

The Sri Lankan navy released dramatic footage of the moment it rescued a drowning elephant when the mammal was dragged out to sea by the current.

In saving these beautiful threatened Asian elephants, the Sri Lankan navy is doing a much better job than most navies in the world. Especially than the royal navy of Saudi Arabia, which blocks the ports of Yemen, causing many civilian deaths by famine and cholera, apart from the Saudi royal air force killing civilians again and again.

Sri Lankan garbage dump kills many people

This video says abot itself:

16 April 2017

Hopes faded on Sunday for the survival of an estimated 100 people trapped under a landslide at a giant rubbish dump in the Sri Lankan capital. Police say the known death toll from the disaster has risen to 26. Emergency workers are to resume their search on Monday after halting late on Sunday night. The 300-foot-high dump collapsed after flames engulfed it late on Friday, burying as many as 145 homes. The police say they are investigating whether the landslide was natural or man-made. Residents of the area, mostly living in shanties, had been demanding the removal of the dump, saying it was causing health problems. The government had said it would remove it soon, under an infrastructure plan.

By Vijith Samarasinghe and Wimal Perera in Sri Lanka:

At least 26 dead in garbage dump collapse in Sri Lanka

17 April 2017

The death toll from Friday’s collapse of a large portion of the massive garbage dump in Meethotamulla, in the suburbs of Colombo, rose to 26 by yesterday evening. The bodies of seven children, along with 19 adults, have been found so far. Another 12 injured have been admitted to the Colombo National Hospital. Residents told WSWS reporters that there could be as many as a 100 people still buried under the debris.

About 145 houses have been destroyed or buried by the collapsing garbage mountain. Around 645 people from 180 families have been displaced and are temporarily sheltering in a nearby primary school and other places without basic amenities. Because the Hindu traditional New Year festival day fell on April 14, visiting relatives may also have been inside the buried houses. The Sri Lanka Electricity Board warned people to leave the surrounding area because a high voltage power line has been damaged.

The tragedy has provoked shock and outrage across the country, compounding the political crisis of the goernment, which is already facing widespread opposition over its austerity policies. President Maithripala Sirisena has held meetings with ministers, military chiefs and government officials to announce assistance and compensation for the victims. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has cut short his tour of Asia “because of the disaster.”

With government approval, Colombo Municipal Council had established a huge garbage dump on a 16-acre block of land and heaped waste up to 30 metres high. Management of the dump lacked any scientific application or concern for the lives of nearby residents. Friday’s collapse destroyed all the houses in its southern boundary.

A woman, who had been waiting since Friday for the bodies of her brother, his wife and 12-year-old daughter to be unearthed, told the WSWS that no government officials or rescue teams reached the site for more than an hour after the disaster. “Residents themselves started searching for the buried people. Then the navy and police came with few shovels,” she said.

Facing rising anger, the government sent army “rescue teams” a few hours later. The army brigadier in charge of the disaster site told the media that a contingent of 600 has now been deployed.

Soldiers and rescue teams are searching the site with rented excavation machinery and without proper equipment or protective gear. This shows the lack of proper disaster preparedness by the government, despite the many landslides in recent years that have killed hundreds. In 2004, the Asian tsunami killed around 40,000 people in Sri Lanka.

Another woman told the WSWS: “For how long have we been saying that this [heap of refuse] would collapse!” She said that a university professor had warned last year that the garbage mountain could collapse due to the pressure of methane gas being produced inside. “All our cries fell on the deaf ears of governments! They did nothing until so many people were buried alive,” said a man who was waiting for information about relatives.

Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayaka, S.M. Marikkar, a government parliamentarian for the area, and Police Chief Pujith Jayasundara faced angry protests by local people when they visited the area.

“People told them that there’s no need to visit after so many have died. What we got when we protested against dumping of garbage here was baton charges,” a man told the WSWS. “Politicians, Buddhist monks, or Catholic priests, none of them are wanted here.”

Another man, now alone with his grandson, angrily explained that these were not deaths, but murders.

Conscious of the simmering anger, the government has deployed a large number of police and soldiers in the area. Under the pretext of “public safety,” the entire area has been cordoned off. The residents are still unable to salvage valuables from their houses.

Contingents of riot police armed with water cannon, tear gas and firearms are on stand-by in nearby towns such as Wellampitiya and Gothatuwa New Town.

More than 24 hours after the collapse, Deputy Finance Minister Harsha de Silva said that the problem had been building up more than 20 years and the government had now decided to immediately stop the dumping of garbage at the site.

Blaming the victims themselves, de Silva stated that the tragedy occurred because the families had refused to move from the area, despite being offered compensation. Locals, however, told the WSWS that there had not been a resettlement program, apart from verbal promises by officials for a pittance in compensation or for rent for a house at an alternative location.

These attempts to evict people are a part of the project initiated by the previous government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, and continued by the current government, to transform Colombo into an international financial and commercial hub. The government is now seeking to use the tragedy to push ahead with evictions.

For a long time this area was used as a place for dumping garbage. However, the dangerous situation developed after 2009 when it became Colombo’s main garbage disposal facility. People protested, warning against the potential disasters on many occasions in the past few years. In early 2014 the Mahinda Rajapakse government launched a violent police attack on the residents who were engaged in a sit-in for days blocking dumping.

During the campaign for the January 2015 presidential election, Ranil Wickremesinghe, then opposition leader, visited the area and told the residents that the problem of the garbage dump would be solved as soon as Maithripala Sirisena was elected. Yesterday he sent hypocritical condolences and cynically stated that the government had been on the point of solving the problem of the garbage dump. In reality, his government responded to local protests in May and December 2015 with brutal police attacks and the arrest of many residents.

The Meethotamulla garbage dump disaster is another tragedy generated by successive governments and the drive for profit. It demonstrates that the capitalist system cannot resolve even the most basic problems facing the masses. While President Sirisena has reportedly ordered an immediate stop to garbage disposal in the area and relief for the victims, his real concern is to prevent the disaster from becoming a focus for mounting anger against the government.

Bird conservation in Sri Lanka

This 2015 video is called Birds of Sri Lanka.

From BirdLife:

Pioneering Sri Lankan bird group turns 40

By Rosa Gleave, 2 Dec 2016

Sri Lanka, October 1976: seven intrepid trailblazers set their sights on making a solid impact on bird awareness and biodiversity conservation on the island. The result? The creation of the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka (FOGSL).

Fast forward to 2016, and FOGSL are celebrating their 40th anniversary. Led by the much-loved Emeritus Prof Sarath Kotagama, the organisation transitioned from an academic group attached to the University of Colombo to becoming a full BirdLife Partner in 1994.

Since then, FOGSL’s influence within the BirdLife Partnership has only continued to grow. Kotagama was elected onto BirdLife’s Global Council in 2013, which met this year in Sri Lanka.

Inclusivity and breaking down social and language barriers is FOGSL’s modus operandi. Birdwatching was once restricted to an elite urban class in Sri Lanka, where the habit was adopted from colonial rulers. Now the organisation provides nature education for a 50,000-strong membership, in addition to working with scores of schools across the island.

FOGSL have always strived to reach out to the community. ‘Siyo Siri’ is a Sinhala (the language of the largest ethnic group in Sri Lanka) expression, suggesting splendour from people coming together. Their outreach activities form an exhaustive and impressive list, from photography exhibitions to field outings; bird ringing to kid’s activities.

Additionally, they publish bird, mammal and shark field guides in both English and Sinhalese. “We broke through barriers of language and made available to all sectors the information on birds and conservation.” said Kotagama. “We can all be proud of this accomplishment.”

“FOGSL has truly lived up to its motto ‘Partnership for Nature & People” said Prof Lakshman Dissanayake, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Colombo. “It continues to excel in conservation and public awareness to improving not just our environment but also the lives of many”.

Work hasn’t all been about outreach though. As BirdLife’s Sri Lankan Partner, FOGSL has worked to identify 70 Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs).

Covering nearly 350,000 ha, these areas support 375 bird species, including 27 endemic to Sri Lanka, such as the Sri Lanka Whistling-thrush Myophonus blighi, Sri Lanka Scimitar-babbler Pomatorhinus melanurus and the Serendib Scops-owl Otus thilohoffmanni. A Red List of Birds for Sri Lanka was compiled in 2012, allowing a valuable status assessment of birds across the country.

Collaborations across the world are bearing fruit for globally-threatened Sri Lankan birds. Working with the US Forest Service and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Kashmir Flycatcher Ficedula subruba is having its territory mapped, helping us to understand better its social behaviour and preferred habitats.

Conservation research has also been carried out on the highly elusive and nationally threatened Blue-eared Kingfisher Alcedo meniniting, accompanied by the creation of an action plan for this species.

As with many of our Partners worldwide, FOGSL’s work doesn’t just concern birds. Mammals – specifically primates – have also received attention from the group. A Zoological Society of London and Open University of Sri Lanka collaboration ran the Red Slender Loris Conservation Programme, establishing Red slender loris Loris tardigardus taxonomy, occupancy and distribution across the tear-drop shaped island.

Sri Lanka’s largest growing industry, tourism, has also been intercepted to cater better to birding tours and eco-tourism with the ‘Bird Friendly Concept’. Launched in 1997, over 30 hotels and touring companies have now signed up, each receiving a training package in sustainability.

Looking to the future, urbanisation poses an ongoing challenge for FOGSL. The proposed ‘Megapolis Project’ will severely threaten wetlands around the country’s capital city of Colombo if proper planning is not put in place. FOGSL will be pilot testing the conservation of five urban wetlands, which act as flood defence as well as a rich hub of biodiversity, allowing their expertise on birds to act for both nature and people. Using citizen science as part of the approach, this represents just part of a suite of programmes planned to commemorate their 40th anniversary.

But development isn’t the only problem they face. “The future is going to be more challenging, as nature declines and novel technologies seem to restrict the youth indoors and the advent of modern gadgets, FOGSL will have to find novel ways to keep and promote the interest in Birds and Conservation.” said Sarath Kotagama.

With the philosophy ‘Once a Member, Always a Conservationist’, FOGSL looks set to go from strength to strength despite adversity on the horizon. Demonstrating how local actions make a global impact, this former grassroots organisation shows the spirit of the ‘Power of Many’ that lies at the heart of the BirdLife Partnership.

FOGSL’s success has not gone unnoticed. “It is with great pride and humbleness that I would like to congratulate the FOGSL family for the hard work, dedication and commitment for birds and biodiversity conservation in Sri Lanka in the past 40 years.” said Patricia Zurita, CEO, BirdLife International. On behalf of the entire Partnership, we’d like to wish FOGSL a happy 40th birthday, and share our gratitude for their continuing part in our mission.