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Archive for the ‘Lone Island of Sri Lanka’ Category

Disputed Sri Lankan PM faces 2nd no-confidence motion

November 16, 2018

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Lawmakers in Sri Lanka’s Parliament supporting disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa threw books, chairs and chili powder mixed with water to try to block the proceedings on Friday, a day after a fierce brawl between rival lawmakers worsened political turmoil in the island nation.

Police who escorted Speaker Karu Jayasuriya into the chamber held boards around him to protect him from being hit by the angry Rajapaksa loyalists, who did not allow him to sit in the speaker’s chair. Several opposition lawmakers and policemen were wounded.

Sri Lanka has been in a political crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena abruptly sacked Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and appointed Rajapaksa. Wickremesinghe says he still has the support of a majority in Parliament.

Jayasuriya, using a microphone, conducted the proceedings while standing on the floor of Parliament, which for the second time passed a no-confidence motion against Rajapaksa and his government by a voice vote.

Jayasuriya first offered to take the vote by name, but was unable to do so because of the commotion and opted for a voice vote. He then adjourned the house until Monday. Lawmakers loyal to Rajapaksa hooted and continued to hurl abuse at Jayasuriya until he left the chamber. Arundika Fernando, a lawmaker allied with Rajapaksa, sat in the speaker’s chair while others shouted slogans.

Sirisena vowed not to dissolve Parliament and called upon “all parties to uphold principles of democracy and parliamentary traditions at all times.” Sirisena dissolved Parliament a week ago and ordered new elections, but the Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended Sirisena’s directive.

Opposition lawmaker R. Sampathan accused Rajapaksa loyalists of preventing a roll-call vote on the no-confidence motion, as requested earlier by Sirisena. On Thursday, Sirisena held an emergency meeting with the leaders of the opposition parties that voted for the first motion against Rajapaksa and asked them to take up the motion again and allow it to be debated and then put to a roll-call vote.

Sirisena held the meeting following the chaos in Parliament on Thursday, when rival lawmakers exchanged blows, leaving one injured, after the speaker announced the country had no prime minister or government because of Wednesday’s motion against Rajapaksa.

Rajapaksa has refused to accept the no-confidence motion, also saying it should not have been done by voice vote. He also insisted the speaker had no authority to remove him and said he is continuing in his role as prime minister.

Rajapaksa, a former president, is considered a hero by some in the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing ethnic Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

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Sri Lankan lawmakers fight in Parliament over PM dispute

November 15, 2018

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Rival lawmakers exchanged blows in Sri Lanka’s Parliament on Thursday as disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed the speaker had no authority to remove him from office by voice vote.

The fighting in the chamber came a day after it passed a no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa’s government. When Parliament re-convened, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the country had no government and there was no prime minister — either Rajapaksa or his rival whose ousting in late October by the president started the crisis.

Rajapaksa disagreed, saying “a vote should have been taken. Such important motions should not be passed by a voice vote.” He added that Jayasuriya has no power to remove or appoint the prime minister and Cabinet members.

He accused the speaker of being partial and representing the position of his party, the United National Party, which is led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Rajapaksa also called for fresh elections, suggesting that it was the best way to resolve the crisis.

The brawl erupted after the opposition asked for a vote on Rajapaksa’s statement, with lawmakers supporting him gathering in the middle of the house while some ran toward the speaker shouting slogans condemning his behavior.

More than 50 lawmakers in the 225-member house fought and some who fell on the floor were kicked by rivals. Some of the lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa threw water bottles, books and trash cans at the speaker. Those opposed to Rajapaksa surrounded Jayasuriya to protect him.

Dilum Amunugama, an ally of Rajapaksa, was taken to a hospital with injuries to his hand while trying to pull out a microphone from the speaker’s table. The commotion went on for about half an hour before Jayasuriya adjourned the house.

“The speaker was under complete siege, he came very close to being physically assaulted by MPs supporting Rajapaksa,” said Chandani Kirinde, a senior correspondent of the Sunday Times, a weekly paper in Sri Lanka. “While clashes have happened in the house, this is probably the first time the speaker came under so much intimidation and abuse.”

On Wednesday, Jayasuriya said debate on the no-confidence motion was not possible after the chamber descended into chaos and he had no choice but to take an oral vote. In January, lawmakers also exchanged blows during a debate over alleged corruption that marred the reputation of Wickremesinghe’s government that was elected on a platform of good governance.

Sri Lanka has been in a crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena suddenly fired Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa. The former president is considered a hero by some of the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.

Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.

Sirisena had also suspended Parliament, apparently to allow Rajapaksa time to gather support among lawmakers. But Wickremesinghe insisted his firing was unconstitutional. He refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament be summoned to prove he still has support.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended Sirisena’s order to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections until next month.

Chaotic Sri Lankan Parliament rejects president’s chosen PM

November 14, 2018

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed a no-confidence vote against the government headed by the hastily sworn-in Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as lawmakers convened Wednesday for the first time since the president dismissed his Cabinet and suspended the legislature last month.

The motion brought by the leader of an opposition party could mean that Rajapaksa will have to resign his post but does not necessarily mean the leader whose ousting set off the crisis will be reinstated.

Lawmakers supporting Ranil Wickremesinghe, whom President Maithripala Sirisena replaced with Rajapaksa on Oct. 26, had a visible majority in the chamber. Many wore shawls with the words “For democracy.”

As Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasuriya prepared to let the no-confidence motion be debated, the chamber descended into chaos, with lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa filing into the center of the room shouting political slogans and accusing Jayasuriya of betraying the people’s mandate.

Jayasuriya then said he had no choice but to bypass the debate and take an oral vote, with those in favor clearly voicing more support for the motion than those against it. Before the results were announced, Rajapaksa walked out of the chamber.

After it became clear last week that Rajapaksa would not survive a no-confidence motion, Sirisena dissolved Parliament, but the Supreme Court on Tuesday had ordered the legislature to keep working until next month.

Namal Rajapaksa, a lawmaker in his father’s United People Freedom Alliance party, told The Associated Press that they “don’t accept this verdict” and will continue as the government. Lawmaker Ajith Perera, a Wickremesinghe supporter, said the results of the vote meant Wickremesinghe and his government would be reinstated.

It’s unclear if that would be the case. Parliament adjourned after the vote and is to reconvene Thursday morning.

Sri Lanka president summons Parliament after PM turmoil

November 01, 2018

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president has summoned Parliament to meet next week as pressure grows for him to resolve the turmoil set off when he sacked the Cabinet last week, his chosen prime minister said Thursday.

President Maithripala Sirisena made the decision a day after meeting with Parliament Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who previously warned of possible violence if lawmakers were not summoned immediately. On Friday, Sirisena had dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet, later telling reporters he acted in part because Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague were behind an alleged assassination plot against him. Details of the alleged plot have not been disclosed and Wickremesinghe denies the accusation.

Sirisena had replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa and suspended Parliament until Nov.16 in an apparent attempt to give Rajapaksa time to muster enough support to survive any no-confidence vote.

Wickremesinghe had demanded the convening of Parliament, saying he still controls a majority of lawmakers. Sirisena’s moves have triggered a power struggle and some observers call it a constitutional crisis.

In remarks broadcast on state television, Rajapaksa told a meeting at his office that Sirisena decided to summon Parliament on Nov. 5. Sirisena was under increasing pressure by his political opponents, rights groups and foreign governments including the United States to summon parliament and end the crisis.

Sirisena’s supporters have talked for weeks about an alleged assassination plot, but Sunday was the first time Sirisena commented publicly about it. A police information has said Wickremesinghe and a Cabinet colleague, former army commander Sarath Fonseka, were behind it. Police have made no arrests.

Tensions have been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena was also critical of investigations into military personnel accused of human rights violations during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009.

A shooting at the Petroleum Minister on Saturday killed two people and wounded one in the first violence related to the political turmoil. On Tuesday, thousands of Sri Lankans protested in the capital demanding Sirisena immediately convene Parliament.

Sri Lanka’s president suspends parliament, deepening crisis

October 27, 2018

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s president suspended parliament on Saturday even as the prime minister he fired the previous day claimed he has majority support, adding to a growing political crisis in the island nation.

Chaminda Gamage, a spokesman for the parliamentary speaker, confirmed that President Maithripala Sirisena had suspended parliament until Nov. 16. The suspension came while ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was holding a news conference in which he asserted that he could prove his majority support in parliament.

Sirisena sacked Wickremesinghe and his Cabinet on Friday and replaced him with former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, creating what some observers said could be a constitutional crisis in the South Asian island nation.

Wickremesingh said parliament should be allowed to resolve the political crisis. “As far as the prime ministership is concerned, the person who has the majority support in parliament has to be the prime minister, and I have that majority of support,” he said. “When a motion of no confidence was moved (in the past), we defeated it showing that the house has the confidence in me.”

“It is not necessary for us to create a crisis. It is not necessary for the people of the country to suffer,” Wickremesingh said. Tensions have been building up between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of some of the economic reforms being introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena was also critical of police investigations into military personnel accused in the abductions and disappearances of civilians and journalists during Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended a decade ago.

Rajapaksa ruled Sri Lanka as president for nine years beginning in 2005, accumulating immense power and popularity among the country’s majority ethnic Sinhalese after overseeing the military’s brutal defeat of ethnic Tamil rebels in May 2009, ending the 25-year civil war. Some supporters hailed him as a king and savior.

But he also was criticized for failing to allow an investigation into allegations of war crimes by the military. Under his government, dozens of journalists were killed, abducted and tortured and some fled the country fearing for their lives. He lost a bid for re-election in 2015 amid mounting allegations of corruption and nepotism.

His return to power as prime minister could signal that Sri Lanka is sliding back to an era of violence against political opponents, critics and journalists, observers said.

Dozens of men describe rape, torture by Sri Lanka government

November 08, 2017

LONDON (AP) — One of the men tortured in Sri Lanka said he was held for 21 days in a small dank room where he was raped 12 times, burned with cigarettes, beaten with iron rods and hung upside-down. Another man described being abducted from home by five men, driven to a prison, and taken to a “torture room” equipped with ropes, iron rods, a bench and buckets of water. There were blood splatters on the wall.

A third man described the prisoners as growing accustomed to the sound of screaming. “It made us really scared the first day but then we got used to it because we heard screaming all the time.” Raped, branded or beaten repeatedly, more than 50 men from the Tamil ethnic minority seeking political asylum in Europe say they were abducted and tortured under Sri Lanka’s current government. The previously unpublished accounts conjure images of the country’s bloody civil war that ended in 2009 — not the palm-fringed paradise portrayed by the government.

One by one, the men agreed to tell their stories to The Associated Press and to have the extensive scars on their legs, chests and groins photographed in July and August. The AP reviewed 32 medical and psychological evaluations and conducted interviews with 20 men. The strangers say they were accused of trying to revive a rebel group on the losing side of the civil war. Although combat ended 8 years ago, the torture and abuse occurred from early 2016 to as recently as July this year.

Sri Lankan authorities deny the allegations. Piers Pigou, a South African human rights investigator who has interviewed torture survivors for the past 40 years in the world’s most dire countries, says the sheer scale of brutality is nothing like he has heard before.

“The levels of sexual abuse being perpetuated in Sri Lanka by authorities are the most egregious and perverted that I’ve ever seen.” Most of the men say they were blindfolded as they were driven to detention sites. They said the majority of their captors identified themselves as members of the Criminal Investigations Department, a police unit that investigates serious crimes. Some, however, said it appeared their captors and interrogators were soldiers based on the types of uniforms and insignia they were wearing. One man reported seeing army uniforms hanging on a clothes line and many of the men wearing army boots.

In an interview last week in Colombo, Sri Lanka Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake denied the torture allegations. “The army was not involved — and as for that matter — I’m sure that police also were not involved,” he said. “There’s no reason for us to do that now.”

The Sri Lankan government minister in charge of the police agreed to an interview with the AP last month but did not follow through. Despite its denials that widespread torture still persists among its security forces, Sri Lanka has repeatedly failed to investigate war crimes allegations stemming from its 26-year civil war.

That conflict was between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who were fighting for an independent homeland for the Tamil minority, and the Sinhalese-dominated government. The Tigers, as they were known, were designated as a terrorist organization after a wave of suicide bombings. The government’s forces, however, were also accused of targeting civilians, which is considered a war crime under international law.

At the end of August, human rights groups in South America filed lawsuits against Gen. Jagath Jayasuriya, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Brazil and other South American nations. He is accused of overseeing military units that attacked hospitals and killed, disappeared and tortured thousands of people at the end of the war. Other high ranking officials — often shielded by diplomatic immunity — have also been accused.

Upon the ambassador’s return to Sri Lanka, President Maithripala Sirisena vowed that neither Jayasuriya the ambassador nor any other “war hero” would face prosecution for such allegations — a pledge that rights groups said illustrates the government’s refusal to investigate its own soldiers accused of war crimes.

Nevertheless, Sri Lanka’s international profile is on the rise. In May, the European Union restored the special trade status that Sri Lanka lost in 2010 after the European Commission found that the country had failed to implement key international conventions. Sri Lanka is also paid to participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions and was recently asked to sit on a U.N. leadership committee trying to combat sexual abuse. An AP investigation earlier this year found that 134 Sri Lankan peacekeepers participated in a child sex ring in Haiti that persisted for three years — and no one was ever prosecuted.

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, one of the U.N.’s top diplomats who has pushed for accountability in Sri Lanka, was aghast at the AP’s accounts of the 52 tortured men. “While the U.N. is unable to confirm this until we mount an investigation, clearly the reports are horrifying and merit a much closer inspection from our part, especially if they occurred in 2016 and 2017,” said Zeid, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The International Truth and Justice Project has gathered testimony from more than 60 Sri Lankans across Europe — 52 of whom were part of the AP’s investigation. The group has been lobbying governments and international organizations to get justice for victims.

The non-governmental organization assigned the men witness numbers to protect their identities. The men agreed to share their stories on condition of anonymity out of fear that they or their families in Sri Lanka could face reprisals.

The men said they were accused of working with the Tamil Tigers, but the government insisted in its interview with the AP that the rebel group is no longer a threat. Nearly all of the men were branded with tiger stripes meant to symbolize the rebel group that fought against the Sinhalese-dominated government for an independent Tamil homeland. One man had nearly 10 thick scars across his back.

Most of the men say they were sexually abused or raped, sometimes with sticks wrapped in barbed wire. Homosexuality is illegal in Sri Lanka and rape carries a significant social stigma. Still, the victims said they felt obligated to tell their stories.

“I want the world to know what is happening in Sri Lanka,” a 22-year-old known as Witness #205 told the AP during an interview in July. “The war against Tamils hasn’t stopped.”

A ‘WHITE VAN’ ABDUCTION

Unlike most of the victims, Witness #249 admits to having been a member of the Tigers nearly a decade ago, joining up when their ranks had been depleted in the final stages of the war. He walks with a limp, caused when a piece of shrapnel left in his leg from a battle in which nine of his friends were blown up.

After the war, he returned to the family farm, helping his father. Last year, he married his high school sweetheart, and began collecting donations for victims of the war.

Soon after his wedding in 2016, he said, he was snatched off the streets, arriving at a torture room hours later.

“They heated up iron rods and burned my back with stripes,” he told the AP, closing his eyes and rocking back and forth. “On another occasion, they put chili powder in a bag and put the bag over my head until I passed out. They … raped me.”

His father eventually bribed the security officers to free him. He was hospitalized for 10 days after his release. Most of the men said their families paid an average bribe of 500,000 Sri Lankan Rupees (around $3,250) and up to $20,000 to be smuggled into Europe — hefty sums that sometimes forced their families to sell parcels of land.

Many of the other victims said they had never worked for the Tamil Tigers. But all told similar tales: they were abducted at home or off the streets by men in white or green vans, they were tortured for days or weeks or months, a family member often secured their release through a bribe, and they made their way to Europe using smugglers.

“I didn’t even get a chance to say good-bye to my wife before I fled for England.”

Now, after all he has endured, Witness #249 relates to the tragic characters in the works of his beloved Shakespeare: broken and cursed.

Last year, Sri Lankan authorities were called to Geneva to testify before the U.N. Committee against Torture. When questioned about allegations of continued use of torture against suspects in police custody and impunity for alleged perpetrators, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya said the country’s constitution prohibited torture and that strengthening human rights was a cornerstone of its current agenda. He also said “strict action” would be taken against perpetrators of human rights violations.

But advocates say that hasn’t happened.

“Unless those responsible for these crimes are tackled head on and held accountable, this will not end,” said Frances Harrison, project manager for the International Truth and Justice Project.

Many Tamils contend that the government continues to target them as part of a larger plan to destroy their culture. Tamils, who speak a different language and are largely Hindu, unlike the largely Buddhist Sinhalese majority, say they have been treated like second-class citizens.

More than 100,000 people were estimated to have died in the war, including at least up to 40,000 civilians in its final months, according to U.N. estimates. Sri Lankan authorities have denied targeting civilians and dispute the toll. Rights groups say both sides committed war crimes.

Witness #205, who reported that he was held for 21 days and tortured, said he was accused of belonging to the Tamil Tiger rebel group.

He, like the majority of the other victims, said one of his captors identified himself as a member of Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigations Department.

“These survivors are the walking wounded of an invisible war in which rape has become the ultimate covert weapon,” said Harrison.

SIXTY CIGARETTE BURNS

Many of the victims meet each week at a London church for English classes and counselling sessions.

In July, a new member of the group stepped forward revealing at least 60 cigarette burns on his legs and chest. At 19, he was the youngest victim of the group and trembled when speaking of his sexual abuse.

“What’s striking is that I’m seeing men who are younger and younger, meaning that they would have had very little to do with the war,” said Dr. Charmian Goldwyn, who has seen nearly 200 Tamils who say they were tortured. Some of the cases occurred before 2015 but she has also seen men who have described more recent abuse.

She assesses their mental and physical health and often testifies in their asylum hearings. She said the branding and scars often make it easier to prove torture for an asylum claim but it becomes more difficult to prove sexual abuse.

Gary Anandasangaree, a Tamil lawmaker in the Canadian government, said there is a large degree of distrust from asylum seekers who fear for the families they left behind. He said one group who sought asylum in Canada had telephone calls to their families intercepted. The families in Sri Lanka were then questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department, he said.

“The reports of recent torture are not surprising,” he said. “I heard similar stories on a visit last year.”

Though the men are relieved to be in Europe, asylum can take years, and even if granted it isn’t necessarily permanent. Britain, like many countries, is buckling under pressure from anti-immigration groups.

For a 34-year-old taxi driver known as Witness #199, the fear of being rejected for asylum is crippling.

In 2014 while still in Sri Lanka, he visited his wife in the hospital after she gave birth to a son. With the war behind him and a new life ahead, he was overjoyed to be starting a family in his homeland — where he finally felt safe.

“After leaving the hospital, a man standing next to a white van started calling my name,” he said. “I wasn’t scared at that point so I just got in.”

The men asked him to pay a bribe and when he told them he couldn’t, they released him on the condition he pay in two weeks, he said.

“My uncle said the men would keep coming back to ask for money so he advised that it would be best if I left the country.”

He fled to Switzerland, but was rejected for asylum eight months later.

Back home, he said, he was visiting friends when he was abducted again.

This time, he was held 23 days, branded with iron rods and raped after a group of men entered his cell and forced him to drink a bottle of alcohol, he said. Some forced him to perform oral sex on them and beat him when he refused. He lost consciousness. When he woke up, he was naked, covered in semen and bleeding from his rectum.

Seeing the bottle left in his cell, he broke it and tried to slash his wrists.

Two days later, he was released and made his way to the UK.

Within days of arriving and applying for asylum, he tried to kill himself again, this time by drinking bleach.

He hasn’t seen his baby boy since he was born.

THE TORTURE ROOM

Some have cast doubt on the men’s stories, saying that the marks could have been caused during the war or even that the men could have inflicted the injuries themselves to gain sympathy on asylum applications — an assertion that that medical and academic experts say is not credible.

Witness #203 said he was forced to join the Tigers as a child soldier at 16. He was studying to be a teacher when he found himself on the battlefield. For four months, he was tasked with collecting the body parts of fallen fighters killed in the extensive shelling soldiers so they could be buried.

Then, last year — seven years after the war ended — he said he was abducted in a white van and driven for two hours.

From his location, he believes he could have been taken to the notorious Joseph Camp, a military installation in the north of Sri Lanka that has been the source of numerous torture claims over the years.

For 11 days, he says men stripped him, touched his genitals and forced him to touch theirs. The 12th day was worse.

“I was put on a bench face down with my hands tied under it and my feet tied to it,” he told the AP.

After refusing to sign a confession written in Sinhalese, the majority’s language, he said his torturers threw a rag soaked in petrol into a bag and shoved the bag onto his head. He passed out. When he awoke he was in a torture room.

It was there that the soles of his feet were thrashed and his back was beaten with a metal pipe. His captors then heated up long metal rods so they could brand him with the marks of a tiger.

He was released on the 13th day after his father paid a bribe and found a Muslim trafficker to arrange for a fake passport for passage to the U.K. In the same month after he arrived, he tried to hang himself with a wire rope. More than a dozen of the victims have tried to kill themselves.

“From all of the beatings, especially on the soles of my feet, the pain had taken over. But what haunted me the most is all of the sexual torture that went on.”

Many of the men said they signed false confessions after the torture.

The road to recovery will be no easy journey for the men, admits Caroline Roemmele, who supervises some of their counselling.

A cocktail of anti-depressants, sleeping pills and pain medication brings comfort to some. Others find solace in telling their stories even though each word awakens memories of their traumas.

“It’s a long process,” said Roemmele. “But the human race wouldn’t have survived if we couldn’t survive trauma.”

Associated Press writer Katy Daigle contributed to this report from Colombo, Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan monk among 7 jailed for attack on Rohingya

October 02, 2017

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lankan authorities have arrested seven people, including at least one Buddhist monk, suspected of storming a United Nations safe house for Rohingya Muslim refugees last week.

Monk Akmeenmana Dayaratana and another suspect were arrested Monday and ordered to remain behind bars until at least Oct. 9, said police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekara. He said the other five suspects were arrested and remanded over the weekend.

They are accused of being among dozens of protesters from Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist community, including monks, who stormed a safe house on the outskirts of Colombo where 31 Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar, including 17 children, had been living since arriving in the country in April. The monks claimed the refugees were terrorists and demanded they be returned to Myanmar, prompting police to move the refugees to another location.

Video posted on Facebook by a nationalist group, the Sinhala National Movement, shows protesters calling Rohingya “terrorists who killed Buddhists in Myanmar” and saying that they can’t live in Sri Lanka.

The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said in a news release that it was alarmed by the attack. Sri Lankan government leaders also condemned it, describing it as a “shameful act,” and calling for strong action against the perpetrators.

Sri Lanka Buddhists make up 70 percent of the island’s 20 million people, while Muslims account for 10 percent. More than half-a-million Rohingya have fled from the region to Bangladesh in just over a month, making it the largest refugee crisis to hit Asia in decades. The latest violence began when a Rohingya insurgent group launched deadly attacks on security posts Aug. 25, prompting Myanmar’s military to launch “clearance operations.”

Rohingya have long faced persecution and discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where the government denies them citizenship and considers them illegal immigrants. Extremist Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have ties with their counterparts in Myanmar and monks in both countries have been accused of leading attacks on minority Muslims.

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