Thirty years ago, Tamil separatists stepping up militant attacks in northern Sri Lanka killed 13 soldiers who reported for duty only a day earlier. Over the next few days, mobs of the Sinhalese majority took revenge, killing between 400 and 3,000 Tamils around the country and triggering a civil war that lasted 26 years and sent hundreds of thousands of Tamils into exile. The BBC’s Charles Haviland reports on the legacy of what came to be known as Black July.
In the stillness of a Colombo afternoon, as a clock chimes three, an elderly woman looks back 30 years and remembers.
“There was a first mob of about 80-odd young guys with iron rods and things. They were in a frenzy, obviously under the influence of alcohol – they smashed up and then came the next lot to loot.”
Priya Balachandran – the BBC has changed her name as she prefers anonymity – recalls the time Colombo and much of southern Sri Lanka seemed gripped by madness. Mob violence was wrought on people, most of whom had little idea what was happening in the north.