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Curfew imposed as Sri Lanka riots spread

victim
Police officers conduct an inquiry into the identity of one of the victims of a massacre at Bandarawela, Sri Lanka, on Thursday  

TALAWAKELLE, Sri Lanka (Reuters) -- Sri Lanka reimposed a curfew on Monday as inter-communal violence spread across the country's central highlands.

Police said the curfew had been introduced in one district after Sinhala youths attacked shops in the town of Ginigathhena, some 20 km (12 miles) west of Talawakelle which on Sunday saw the worst outbreak of inter-communal violence since an ethnic war against Tamil separatists began 17 years ago.

Police have detained an opposition lawmaker in connection with Sunday's clashes that killed at least two people and wounded several others.

On Monday Tamil youths lobbed stones at police manning central Sri Lanka's main highway.

Eyewitnesses said the army had been called in to escort passing vehicles as some commuters had been hit by flying stones. Dozens of vehicles were also reported damaged.

M. Sivalingam, deputy leader of the Ceylon Worker's Congress accused military personnel of harassing minority Tamil plantation workers in the Lindula area of Nuwara Eliya. The army vehemently denied the charge.

Nuwara Eliya, the district now under curfew, has the largest Tamil population in central Sri Lanka -- mostly labour in the country's tea estates.

Police earlier detained the leader of the Upcountry People's Front (UPF), P. Chandrasekeran, whose demonstration over a recent massacre of Tamil detainees turned Talawakelle, 160 km (100 miles) east of the capital, into a war zone.

He is yet to be formally charged with any crime.

Police said gangs of enraged minority Tamils had gone on the rampage on Sunday after the protest which followed the funeral of one of the massacre victims, setting shops ablaze and attacking vehicles driving through Talawakelle town.

"The demonstration turned violent, led by the UPF. All shops owned by Sinhalese were damaged. After the demonstrators dispersed, the Sinhalese mob started attacking Tamils and their property," said a senior police official in Talawakelle on condition of anonymity.

UPF officials have said a group of people outside their minority Tamil party instigated the violence.

Troops patrolled Talawakelle after an overnight curfew across the heart of the country's tea plantations, some 5,000 feet (1,520 metres) above sea level, was lifted on Monday.

A Reuters photographer at the scene said he saw shops in Talawakelle still smoking early on Monday. Shattered vehicles lined the Talawakelle streets that were strewn with glass and wreckage.

Sporadic violence was also reported in other parts of central Sri Lanka, despite Sunday night's curfew.

On Sunday troops were rushed in after Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake chaired an emergency meeting with the country's service chiefs.

Some Tamil villages from the Watagoda area protected more than 100 commuters, mostly Sinhalese, whose train was set fire by mobs before army came to the rescue, residents said.

The UPF demonstration denounced the killing of 26 former Tamil rebels and child soldiers by a machete-wielding Sinhalese mob at the Bindunuwewa rehabilitation camp last Wednesday.

Last week's carnage opened old wounds in the bitterly divided country, where government forces have been battling the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since 1983.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ASIANOW


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October 29, 2000
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RELATED SITES:
The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)
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