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Sri Lanka Suspends Flight Training Near Biggest Air Force Base due to Security Concerns

Flight training has been suspended at Ratmalana, a suburb in the capital Colombo, the country's Civil Aviation Authority said in a letter to flying schools and aircraft operators

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flight training, air force base, security concerns
FILE - Sri Lankan air force paratroopers get ready for an exercise at an air force base in Ratmalana, a suburb of Colombo, Sri Lanka. VOA

Sri Lanka has suspended flight training near its biggest air force base due to security concerns after suspected Islamist militants killed more than 250 people last month, according to a government directive seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Sri Lanka has been on high alert since multiple suicide bombings on Easter Sunday targeted churches and hotels. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Flight training has been suspended at Ratmalana, a suburb in the capital Colombo, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a letter to flying schools and aircraft operators.

flight training, air force base, security concerns
Flight training has been suspended at Ratmalana, a suburb in the capital Colombo, the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said in a letter to flying schools and aircraft operators. VOA

Training will only be allowed from the Katukurunda domestic airport, around 35 km (22 miles) south of Colombo, and flights can only fly to the south of that base, according to the letter. A copy of the letter, dated April 30th, was seen by Reuters. The new rules are effective immediately.

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Sri Lanka suspended training at Ratmalana during the peak of the civil war with Tamil separatists fearing air attacks. The letter cites new rules “in view of the prevailing security threat to the national defense, lives of public and properties.” The new guidelines also suspend recreational and leisure flights such as sky diving.

No training flights have been operated for two weeks since the rules came into place due to difficulties in moving training operations to Katukurunda, according to a source familiar with the matter. (VOA)

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Sri Lanka: Hardline Buddhist Groups Likely Behind Anti-Muslim Attacks

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels

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Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
Muslim men stand near a damaged three-wheeler, after a mob attack in a mosque in the nearby village of Kottampitiya, Sri Lanka, May 14, 2019. VOA

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots that swept the island this week in apparent retaliation for Easter bombings by Islamist militants.

The April 21 attacks, claimed by Islamic State, targeted churches and hotels, killing more than 250 people and fueling fears of a backlash against the nation’s minority Muslims.

In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest, ransacking mosques, burning Korans and attacking shops with petrol bombs, residents said.

Authorities have arrested some 78 suspected rioters, including three described as Sinhala Buddhist extremists who had been investigated for similar actions in the town in Kandy district last year.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups

Sri Lanka said on Wednesday hardline Buddhist groups were likely to blame for a wave of anti-Muslim riots. Pixabay

“These are organized attacks on Muslim business houses and premises,” Navin Dissanayake, minister of plantation industries, said during a government news conference about the security situation.

Asked who was organizing the attacks, Dissanayake said: “I think these organizations that Amith Weerasinghe, Dan Priyasad, and Namal Kumara [are heading],” referring to the three Buddhist extremists arrested on Tuesday.

Local media reported on Wednesday that Priyasad was released on bail on Wednesday while Weerasinghe was remanded until May 28. The status of Kumara was not clear.

A police spokesperson was not immediately available for comment on the arrests.

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Muslims make up nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist. The Indian Ocean island was torn for decades by a civil war between separatists from the mostly Hindu Tamil minority and the Sinhala Buddhist-dominated government. The government stamped out the rebellion about 10 years ago.

In recent years, Buddhist hardliners, led by the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) or “Buddhist Power Force” have stoked hostility against Muslims, saying Middle Eastern influence has turned the community more conservative and insular.

In the same press conference, Ranjith Madduma Bandara, minister of public administration, said the group behind the attacks had political aims.

“This group is trying to tarnish the government’s image and show the government is unable to handle the situation,” he said, without naming the organization.

Sri Lanka, Hardline Buddhist Groups
In the anti-Muslim unrest that started Sunday, mobs moved through towns in Sri Lanka’s northwest. Wikimedia Commons

Authorities said the island was calm again, with no anti-Muslim violence reported on Wednesday.

Army probe

Also on Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s army said it was investigating a video posted on social media that showed a man wearing what appears to be an army uniform walking away seconds before an anti-Muslim mob attacked a building this week.

In the video, the man stands outside the building and then leaves. Seconds later, about two dozen people, including young men wearing motorbike helmets, run over and throw stones at the building.

Reuters could not independently verify the video. “The attention of the army has been drawn to a video clip where a person dressed in uniform similar to that of the army was watching while a group of violent saboteurs were in action in the general area of Thunmodara,” the army said in a statement announcing the investigation.

Two residents of Thunmodara, a town to the northeast of the capital Colombo, told Reuters that a mosque and some Muslim-owned shops were attacked.

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In over a dozen interviews in the hard-hit Kurunegala district northeast of Colombo, Muslims said attacks took place despite the presence of security forces.

One police source who declined to be identified told Reuters they did not have enough officers to handle the rioters. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera on Tuesday rejected allegations that police had stood by. (VOA)