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Last updated: 02 September, 2011 - Published 11:23 GMT
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'Panic' in Jaffna over Grease Devils

People in Jaffna (file photo)
Military believes former Tamil Tigers were behind some of the crowd violence
An opposition MP in Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka says many people there are in a state of panic and afraid to go out at night because of the security forces’ behaviour.

Reports say the police and army beat up 20 people when taking action against a crowd who had been chasing some strangers they accused of acting suspiciously.

Many areas of the island are now gripped by fear of suspicious attackers and intruders, who are being collectively dubbed “grease devils”.

There are clear signs that the scare over so-called "grease devils" is aggravating the already tense atmosphere in Jaffna, a mainly Tamil city largely governed by a mainly Sinhalese army.

There are more and more accounts of people reporting mysterious intruders or attackers of women, and crowds seeking to get them arrested, then accusing the security forces of protecting them.

Army admits attacks

The crowds have taken to vandalism and the military have been reacting heavy-handedly.

Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa
Mr Rajapaksa says army would act against anyone making trouble just as it defeated “terrorists"

In the latest reported incident, a crowd chased two people they said were acting suspiciously, tried to smash a bus they fled into, and were then set upon by the army who beat up and arrested several people.

Dozens more await trial after an earlier similar incident.

An army source speaking anonymously to the BBC admitted they had used physical force on protestors.

He said this was because the military believed former Tamil Tiger militants were behind some of the crowd violence.

Ordinary people, in contrast, are increasingly blaming the military or civil authorities for perpetrating the so-called "grease devil" attacks.

It is mainly the Tamil and Muslim minorities who have been reporting these assaults.

At a recent meeting with Muslim imams, Sri Lanka’s defence secretary said that, just as the army defeated “terrorists”, it would act against anyone making trouble.

The whole affair is mysterious.

There are few coherent accounts of the alleged misdeeds of the "devils" and little photographic evidence.

What is clear is that in many places in Sri Lanka there is now a poisonous mixture – fear of crime, vigilante violence, and an atmosphere of revenge.

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