Three jailed over shop row that sparked sectarian riots in Myanmar

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 April, 2013, 4:34am


A Muslim businessman, his wife and an employee have been jailed after an altercation at their gold shop led to anti-Muslim riots in which at least 43 people died in Myanmar last month.

Shop owner Tun Tun Oo, his wife Myint Myint Aye and an employee, Nyi Nyi, were each jailed for 14 years for assault and theft after an argument with a customer turned violent, said the state-run Kyemon newspaper.

"That incident led to the outbreak of riots in Meiktila," the newspaper said yesterday.

Sectarian violence threatens to derail political and economic reforms in Myanmar, which was ruled for decades by military regimes that brutally suppressed dissent.

Lifting restrictions on freedom of speech has allowed political dialogue but has also unleashed anti-Muslim rhetoric by radical Buddhist monks, delivered in speeches and then distributed through DVDs.

Witnesses said monks led some of the mobs and took part in the killings in Meiktila, a town in central Myanmar.

Witnesses said that on March 21, Tun Tun Oo slapped a Buddhist woman who had accused employees of damaging a gold hair clip she wanted to sell. The woman's husband was pulled outside, held down and beaten by three of the shop's staff.

A mostly Buddhist crowd gathered, hurling stones and shouting anti-Muslim insults, eventually destroying the shop and neighbouring businesses.

Later that day, four Muslim men killed a Buddhist monk and Buddhist mobs went on the rampage.

By the time the government declared a state of emergency three days later, at least 43 people were dead, 86 injured and almost 13,000 Muslims were homeless, their houses and businesses burned to the ground.

The rioting spread to towns and villages near the capital, Naypyidaw, and eventually reached areas just two hours' drive from Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon.

Police arrested more than 60 people after the riots in Meiktila, state media reported. Thursday's convictions were the first in cases related to the trouble.

Kyaw Lin Htet, a Buddhist doctor in Meiktila who treated victims of the riots, said a night-time curfew remained in force in the town.

"There are many rumours that some Muslims may try to take revenge," he said.